Fire safety researcher leading new study on wind-blown fire embers

Date Published: 
August 12, 2015

A researcher in the Fire Safety Engineering Technology program of the William States Lee College of Engineering is leading a new multi-institutional study designed to reduce wildfires and mitigate damages due to ignition or fire spread by wind-blown fire embers.

Sponsored by the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP), the $420,000 “Fire Ember Production from Wildland and Structural Fuels” project will bring together researchers from seven institutions. UNC Charlotte’s portion of the project is $219,000 for laboratory testing research.

“This is a major research project sponsored by the JFSP to understand fire ember production and characteristics from various wildland and structural fuels under realistic wildfire conditions,” said Aixi Zhou, the principal investigator on the project and associate professor of fire safety engineering technology at UNC Charlotte. “We are fortunate to have an excellent team to undertake this task with unique expertise and research capabilities from each project partner.”

In addition to UNC Charlotte’s Zhou, the partnering researchers are Stephen Quarles from the Institute for Business and Home Safety; David Weise at the Pacific Southwest Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service; Ofodike Ezekoye, a professor at the University of Texas; Michael Gollner, a professor at the University of Maryland; Casey Grant at the Fire Protection Research Foundation, National Fire Protection Association; and Alan Long from the JFSP Southern Fire Exchange and a professor at the University of Florida.

The purpose of the project is to investigate fire ember production from selected burning wildland and structural (construction materials) fuels under a range of environmental conditions through full-, intermediate- and small-scale laboratory experiments.

Spot fires caused by wind-blown burning embers (also called firebrands) are a significant mechanism of fire spread in the wildland and Wildland-Urban Interface (the area between unoccupied land and human development). Specific project objectives include determining basic thermal decomposition and combustion properties; determining production rate, mass, shape and dimensions of embers under a range of conditions; determining the travel distance of embers; determining the burning duration and intensity of embers; and evaluating the impact of these properties on ignition potential and fire spread.

The resulting data will enable researchers to relate the fuel’s basic thermal degradation, geometrical structure and combustion properties to its ember production characteristics and investigate the link between some commonly used environmental indices and ember production.

JFSP is a partnership of six federal wildland management and research agencies that addresses problems associated with managing wildland fuels, fires and fire-impacted ecosystems. The partnering agencies include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service and five bureaus in the U.S. Department of the Interior: Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Geological Survey.