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Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index System’s Issues Term Paper


Over the years, there have been concerns over the management of fire, with a lot of focus on the occurrence and prediction of forest fires. As such, the planning and management of fires require serious measures. For this reason, consider the management of large forest fires, although such a factor will necessitate the availability of various tools that can be useful in the determination of the vulnerability degree as well as set up forest stands. Cases of forest fires especially in the Mediterranean countries are rampant (Chelli et al. 1795). To reduce the occurrence of fire cases as well as provide insights about fire and its occurrence, various fire hazard rating systems have been established in various regions of the world. In most of the cases, the primary aim of such an approach has been to find out the potential of forest fires in given areas. In Canada, extensive and continuous research has been carried out over the past years to provide information about fire behavior and occurrence.

There are a number of modern tools, which are used in the assessment of fire hazards and risks. Some of these tools include prescribed burning, silvicultural management, crown hazard vulnerability, fire models, and fire danger rating systems. The process of making decisions in relation to fire hazards and risks can be quiet involving. Nevertheless, all the above assessment tools are applicable in diverse parts of the process. One of the successful fire hazard rating systems developed in Canada is the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index (FWI) system. The rationale for the formation of this system was that even though there were other regional hazard rating systems, they were unable to offer satisfactory services as far as the need for fire management services’ sophistication was concerned (Wotton 107).

The establishment of the Fire Weather Index in Canada has been of great significance as far as the forecast of forest fires in Canada and other areas are concerned (Wotton 107). In spite of this, the success of this system is affected by a number of factors such as climate and general vegetation.

This paper aims to describe the issues related to the use of the Canadian FWI System in fire management operations in Mediterranean countries, with the primary focus being on differences in fuel types, forest structure, forest floor structure, and overall climate. While the inputs of the FWI system are universal, the adoption of the FWI system requires different modifications across different areas (Chelli et al. 1795). Within Canada, it is crucial for fire managers to interpret data regionally. This alignment is based on the regional distinctions and hence, the difference between the calculated indices and what fire weather the indices actually indicate is magnified in countries located in another continent. The geographical distance implies dramatic differences in fuel types, forest structure, forest floor structure, and climates. From the four aspects of geographical differences between Canada and Mediterranean countries, this paper discusses issues and potential problems of the use of the FWI systems in those countries.

Overview of the Canadian FWI System

There is a need for effective fire management measures to ensure that the occurrence and the extent of fire dangers are suppressed at all times. For this reason, fire managers are required to have clear information about the occurrence of forest fire in order to make the necessary preparations in terms of the needed materials as well as the availability of such materials. To achieve such objectives there is a need for an effective system that can forecast the expected forest fire, its behavior, and dangers. Such predictions in Canada are done by the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (Wotton 108). In this case, fire danger is considered to be the process of assessing all the factors, whether dynamic or static, within a given environment that might influence the ignition ease, speed rate, as well as fire’s control and impact. The Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS) is divided into the Forest WEATHER Index and the Forest Fire Behavior Prediction (FBP) system.

The role of the FWI system includes the provision of means to evaluate how severe certain weather conditions are especially in a type of forest that shares certain common standards. The Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index system comprises of elements that help in the determination of fire behavior, as well as the impact of various factors such as wind and fuel moisture, on the behavior of forest fire. For example, the first three components focus on the compact organic layers, average moisture content, loosely compacted organic layers, litter moisture content, and the moisture codes for all fuels.

The other components of the Canadian FWI include the indices of fire behavior, and this represents the rate at which forest fire spread, the availability of combustible fuel, as well as the intensity of the frontal fire. Generally, the FWI offers numerical ratings with regards to the fuel moisture as well as shows fire behavior relative indices. As such, the success of the Forest Fire Behavior of Canada is determined by the FWI system. The introduction of the Forest Weather Index system was championed by the need for the integration of information on the weather of a particular region into the indices of fire danger and fuel moisture based on the diversity of types of forests. The FWI system is advantageous in that it can track moisture through codes to establish the ideal forest floor for fire ignition, the spread, as well as the suppression of fire.

Factors that Influence Forest Fires

The occurrence of catastrophic forest fires can be attributed to a number of factors such as terrain characteristics, lack of moisture, abundance of fuel, and weather. While all these factors have adverse impacts on the degree of a forest fire, the fuel abundance factor is attributed to the intervention of human beings (Camia and Amatulli 72). Nevertheless, if fuels are treated as expected, chances are high that the behavior of forest fire can be modified and hence, lead to a reduction in the impact that such fires have on the environment. Despite the fact that incidences of forest fires are common, a number of initiatives have been adopted such as landscape fragmentation, reduction of fuels in the surface, as well as fire suppression, which have been instrumental in reducing the rate of forest fire incidences.

Differences in Fuel Types

The behavior of forest fire can be influenced extensively by the surface fuels. There are various types of fuel implying that the intensity of forest fire is different depending on the fuel types. As such, fire hazards in any forest or even in any landscape, are influenced by the intensity of fire behavior alongside the impact of the fuel types in the concerned area. The implication of this statement is that there is a need to have a clear understanding of the fuel beds’ structure as well as the function that they have in initiating and propagating fire. Such a move would help to develop efficient strategies to manage different fuel types. Traditionally, fuels are considered to be indifferent categories of ground fuels, surface fuels, crown fuels (Camia and Amatulli 80). However, when considering a refined classification of fuel, the focuses changes to have six separate strata including (1) ground fuel, (2) litter, lichens, moss (3) woody fuel (4) low vegetation, (5) small trees/shrubs and (6) forest canopy.

The most common fuel type of fire that has adverse impacts on the propagation, as well as the management of forest fires, is the crown fires. These types of fuels are a threat to human and ecological values. This can be attributed to the fact that the crown fires rely on the tree canopy for propagation. As such, where the canopies are dense, chances are high that such fires would spread to a large area of land. In addition, the shrub and/small tree stratum is also a major player in the occurrence and propagation of crown fires as it increases the intensity of the surface fireline implying that there is a continuous link between the surface and the top of the tree canopies.

The surface fires are highly propagated by low vegetation which includes herbs and grasses. The speed of surface fires is high in areas where the vegetation has low moisture content or is dead. In spite of this, different forest systems show diversity in terms of how low vegetation contributes to forest fires. The energy component in surface fires can be influenced greatly by woody fuel, which comprises of woodpiles, stumps, rotten logs, and sound logs. As such, the presence of wood fuel in any region is a clear indication that the flame lengths from surface fuels will be sufficient to ignite both the canopy fuel and the ladder fuel.

Surface fires vary with respect to the size-class distributions, bulk densities, and surface-fuel packing. The availability of litter, lichens, and moss of the floor of the forest determines the energy of the surface fire. The type of fuel in a given forest system determines the intensity of the forest fires. For example, dead needle litter and moss accumulations play a significant role in the propagation of surface and crown fires regardless of the reduction in the tree density. The implication is that surface fires have a close relationship with crown fires and hence, understanding crown and ladder fuels can be an important point of reference when assessing and predicting fire behavior in any given region. It is important to have effective measures of managing surface fuels since such an approach can help decrease the intensity of fireline as well as reduce the potential of fire severity.

Another type of forest fire, the smoldering fire, is caused by woody fuel, litter, lichens, and moss, and ground fuel. The availability of ground fuel in ay forest is an indication that the given forest has not experienced forest fires for a long time. As such, in the case of a forest fire, the ground fuel, litter, moss and lichens offer facilitation to the speed of the smoldering fire as well as its transition from one area to the other. Woody fuel, on the other hand, helps to increase energy and length of the fire flames and has the ability to sustain forest fire for over several weeks.

Forest Structure

The majority of the forests in Mediterranean countries have undergone horizontal and vertical continuity especially in most of the arid and semi-arid elevation forests (Camia and Amatulli 72). In most of the cases, the available forests are denser in terms of the canopies and have a high proportion of fire-intolerant species, as well as few large trees. Such conditions have a lot of impact on the probability that surface fires develop into crown fires. This can be attributed to the fact that the chances of the understory ladder fuels lowering the effective canopy base height are high. In such cases, the canopy plays a significant role in the propagation of fire, especially in a vertical direction. Based on history, the majority of Mediterranean forests’ structures are open and have minimum understory vegetation (Camia and Amatulli 77). Various types of forest structures have different impacts on the behavior and danger of forest fire. Some factors such as wind speed, humidity, temperature, elevation, aspect, and slope affect the behavior of forest fire since different fuel condition is achieved by a different type of forest structure. There is a clear link between forest fore behavior and the structure of the stand.

The primary goal of reducing the treatment of fuel is to ensure that there is a reduction in the intensities of fireline, as well as the potential for crown fires. Such an approach is very important when it comes to the suppression of forest fires and hence, leads to an improvement of the fire management practices. Often, weather, topology, and fuel interact closely to influence the diverse behaviors of a forest fire. For this reason, it is more likely that different forest structures have different impacts on the occurrence and speed of forest fire.

Forest Floor Structure

The structure of any given forest has different impacts on the behavior and speed of forest fire. This is based on the fact that different fuel types impact the occurrence, speed, and propagation of fire differently. For example, as indicated above, the ladder fuel and crown fuels have a close association when it comes to the propagation and transition of fire (San-Miguel-Ayanz et al. 11). In an area where the floor structure is covered by ground fuel, litter, lichens, and moss, the chances are high that the forest fire experienced in such areas is different in terms of speed, transition, and propagation as compared to other area without such fuels. With respect to this example, it is evident that there are cases where the fuel type on the surface of the forest floor determines the occurrence, speed, and propagation of various types of fires. For example, the availability of various fuel types on the floor surface can influence the occurrence of crown fires whereby the fuels on the floor act as ladder fuels.

Overall Climate

The weather has a significant role to play in the fire environment. Weather and climate play a very significant role in the fire environment and its management. For example, in the Mediterranean environment, incidences of fire are common during times when the temperatures are high especially in times of drought (Flannigan et al. 549). Such characteristics define the seasons of fire occurrence. For example, extreme drought conditions and unprecedented heatwaves in South-western Europe were instrumental for the dramatic 2005 and 2003 summers respectively. In a similar instance, there was an explosion that comprised of extremely high temperatures and strong winds in South-eastern Europe in 2007, and this was triggered by the prolonged drought periods experienced in that area.

Often, the climate and the weather of any given region have significant impacts on the rate at which forest fire occurs. For example, there are numerous physical processes like dew formation, absorption of water vapor, desorption, and evaporation, which affect the content of moisture in dead wildland fuels. All of these processes are determined by the type of climate in a given region. Droughts in any given area increase the probability of the occurrence of forest fires. This is attributable to the fact that weather has the capacity of spurring fire to increase speed as well as cover a large area of land (Flannigan et al. 551). Additionally, such conditions can also have adverse impacts especially when it comes to fighting the forest fire.

The weather of any given area adversely affects different aspects of the environment triggering forest fire (Wotton 110). For example, there is a close relationship between weather, climate, and instability of the atmosphere, synoptic meteorological conditions, and weather and climate. All these factors are very instrumental in diverse fire behaviors. An example of the meteorological conditions that influence the occurrence and the speed of forest fire can be traced from the case of the circulation patterns of European mesoscale which result in major fire incidences in Spain. In addition, within the Mediterranean areas, grasses and shrubs influence the live fuel conditions and hence, trigger and accelerate forest fire (San-Miguel-Ayanz et al. 12). This can be attributed to the fact that there is a significant correlation between the phenology of plants and the moisture content found in live fuels. However, the typical summer drought in the Mediterranean countries as well as the associated soil water reserves influence the fuel moisture content in herbs and shrubs in such areas. Considering the case of central Portugal, the drought code as presented by the forest fire danger rating system of Canada showed a significant relationship with shrubs’ and live fine fuels’ moisture content.

In other cases, Mediterranean regions experience different foliar moisture content especially for the case of conifer trees, although the moisture content varies depending on seasons and species (San-Miguel-Ayanz et al.11). For this reason, when predicting the behavior of fire, no consideration is given for the foliar moisture content as this is estimated based on the date, elevation, and location.

Treatment of Fuel

Now that it is clear different types of fuel have various impacts on the occurrence, speed, transition, and propagation of forest fire, it is important to establish the opportune time to treat fuels. One of the reasons why fuels are treated is to retire them to their initial conditions for the purposes of reducing fire hazards. Even though this approach can be applicable in cases of low elevation and dry forests, it may not work in wet, cold and highly elevated forests. Therefore, when one is treating forest fuel, the primary objective is to ensure that the fuel is in a state such that it can reduce the suppression of forest fire. However, this objective is often applicable in areas whose slopes are not so steep or inaccessible especially during firefighting incidents. In addition, steep slopes pose a lot of challenges during the treatment process (Vilén and Fernandes 558). Most of the fuel treatment practices are not effective due to the fact that the fuels are randomly treated without consideration being given on the fire hazard or the type of fuel in terms of the broader landscape.

Surface, ladder, and crown fuels are the major target of fuel treatment. As such, to modify the vegetation in a given forest, thinning operations are carried out in the ladder and canopy fuels (Wotton 110). To modify surface fuel, the specific forest fuel is removed or even reduced. On the other hand, prescribed fire and silvicultural treatments are used in the modification of the dynamics of forest vegetation both in the long and short run. The availability of grass and shrubs on the floor of any forest can be influenced by whether or not the forest canopy is open. This can be attributed to the fact that an open canopy allows light to reach the floor of the forest allows the growth of surface fuels.

For the fuel treatment exercise to be effective, the following aspects should be considered: an understanding of the assessment and mechanical treatment of the forest stand, clear information on the material that is to be removed or reduced, and the percentage of material, based on the fuel type, sizes of the material, and species, that is to remain on site. Such consideration ensures that the appropriate method of fuel treatment is adopted. For example, the prescribed fire method is successful depending on the conditions of the initial fuel, the weather, as well as a fire manager’s skill (Vilén and Fernandes 558). For this reason, the prescribed fire method should only be practiced in cases where the chances of initiating crown fire are very low. The implication of this statement is that for this method to be effective, the ladder fuel must be as minimal as possible. Evidently, whichever approach is adopted to treat fuel as a means to reduce the incidence rate as well as the rate of propagation, it is important to have clear information on the forest features.


Over the past years, the focus of the fire danger rating involved indirectly assessing the moisture content in dead fuel through the systematic recording of weather variables given a specific time frame. However, the majority of the European Mediterranean countries currently use a different approach to the assessment of fire danger; the use of the Canadian Fire Weather Index (FWI) system. This method has been effective in numerous areas to assess fire danger despite the fact that its initial focus was on the boreal forests of Canada.

According to the discussion above, it was evident that the occurrence, behavior, transition, and propagation of forest fires depends on the forest structure, the different fuel types, weather and climate, and the forest floor structure. Various fuel types including crown fuels, surface fuels, ground fuels also influence the behavior of fire. For this reason, it is important to understand the fuel composition in a given area in order to predict fire behavior. Such is an example of the factors that the CDFRS puts into consideration when assessing and predicting the occurrence of fire and its behavior in a given area. However, the success of the FWI depends largely on a few aspects. For example, having clear knowledge as well as being able to predict the activity of forest fire is one of the significant aspects of the success of fire management practices in Canada and other Mediterranean countries. It is important to have clear information regarding the occurrence, severity, and general behavior of fire in any given area.

The establishment of the FWI has had a significant impact as far as the fight to reduce the occurrence and the degree of forest fire danger is concerned. This is based on the fact that the FWI system offers a generalized summary of a region’s weather and fuel condition by establishing its moisture content. For this reason, it suffices that the Forest Weather Index is useful in cases where there is a need for a single fire indicator. For instance, this system has been used to set up roadside fire danger signs’ levels. Additionally, more basic aspects of the FWI system such as the forests fire moisture code, are used in the daily management of fire. On the other hand, the outputs of the FWI are very useful in the Fire Behavior Prediction system. It is evident that the FWI system is generally important when it comes to the prediction, control, and management of forest fires.

Works Cited

Camia, Andrea, and Giuseppe Amatulli. “Weather factors and fire danger in the Mediterranean.” Earth observation of wildland fires in Mediterranean ecosystems, edited by Chuvieco Emilio, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2009, pp. 71-82.

Chelli, Stefano, et al. “Adaptation of the Canadian fire weather index to Mediterranean forests.” Natural Hazards, vol. 75, no. 2, 2015, pp. 1795-1810.

Flannigan, Mike, et al. “Impacts of climate change on fire activity and fire management in the circumboreal forest.” Global Change Biology, vol. 15, no. 3, 2009, pp. 549- 560.

San-Miguel-Ayanz, Jesús, et al. “Analysis of large fires in European Mediterranean landscapes: Lessons learned and perspectives.” Forest Ecology and Management, vol. 294, no. 1, 2013, pp. 11-22.

Vilén, Terhi, and Paulo Fernandes. “Forest fires in Mediterranean countries: CO2 emissions and mitigation possibilities through prescribed burning.” Environmental Management, vol. 48, no. 3, 2011, pp. 558-567.

Wotton, Mike. “Interpreting and using outputs from the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System in research applications.” Environmental and Ecological Statistics, vol. 16, no. 2, 2009, pp. 107-131.

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