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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

A phenology-driven fire danger index for northern grasslands

Sjostrom, Johan; Granstrom, Anders

Abstract

Background. Directly after snowmelt, northern grasslands typically have highly flammable fuel-beds consisting of 100% grass litter. With green-up, the addition of high-moisture foliage leads to progressively decreasing fire hazard. Aims. Our aim was to create a fire-danger index for northern grasslands that incorporated grass phenology. Methods. We made use of 25 years of Swedish wildfire data and 56 experimental fires conducted during one full fire-season, merged with established models for moisture content and flame spread rates. Refined data on equilibrium moisture content of grass litter were obtained through laboratory tests. Key results. The RING (Rate of spread In Northern Grasslands) model uses cumulative air temperature as a proxy for growing season progression. Three independent functions account for impact of wind, moisture content and the damping effect of live grass, respectively. The latter results in exponentially decaying rate of spread (ROS) with the progressing season. Following the field experiments, green grass proportion as low as 10-20% (live/dead dry-mass) resulted in model-ROS so reduced that the grassland fire season could effectively be considered over. Conclusions. The model, calculated from standard meteorological data only, matches the experimental results and separately performed validation tests, as well as wildfire dispatch data. Implications. RING has been used in Sweden since 2021 and is likely applicable to other northern regions as well.

Keywords

ecosystems; boreal; fire behaviour; northern grasslands; phenology; propagation; fire danger; fuel; wildland-urban interface

Published in

International Journal of Wildland Fire
2023, Volume: 32, number: 9, pages: 1332-1346 Publisher: CSIRO PUBLISHING