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Community-Scale Fire Spread



Ronald G. Rehm, Anthony P. Hamins, Howard R. Baum, Kevin B. McGrattan, D D. Evans


This paper addresses community-scale fires, which have also been called urban/wildland interface or intermix fires. These fires arise when wildlandfires invade the built environment and attack structures as well as wildland fuels. The prediction of the spread of wildland fires, such as those occurring out West this past summer, has been accomplished through operational mathematical models. These models are based on empirical correlations for wildland fuels and have generally performed well. They fail, however, when the fire spreads to the built environment where the empirical correlations no longer apply and where there is greatly increased potential for property damage, injury and death. The Oakland and Berkeley Hills fire of October 21, 1991, and the Los Alamos fires of May 2000 are examples of community-scale fires. The potential fuel loadings for various land uses demonstrates that structures generally provide much higher loadings than wildlands do. While this comparison is useful, it could also be misleading since generally, not all of the potential fuel in either the wildland or the built environment will burn. Furthermore, often the time scales for ignition and the heat release rates for the wildland fuel and the fuel in the structures will be widely disparate, and these differences will influence both the spread rate of the fire and its persistence. Although the NIST computational model known as the Fire Dynamic Simulator (FDS) was developed to study building fires, it is now being extended to study community-scale fires. These extensions require much higher resolution data on local topography, buildings, vegetation, and meteorological conditions. They also require additional research on the mechanisms by which fires spread in the built environment between discrete elements, such as structures or structures and trees.
NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR) - 6891
Report Number


fire spread, large-scale fire, wildland fire


Rehm, R. , Hamins, A. , Baum, H. , McGrattan, K. and Evans, D. (2002), Community-Scale Fire Spread, NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed April 19, 2024)
Created July 1, 2002, Updated November 10, 2018