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Fire Climbing in the Forest: A Semiqualitative, Semiquantitative Approach to Assessing Ladder Fuel Hazards

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Ladder fuels carry fire from the forest floor to the canopy and thereby may turn low-intensity fires into severe canopy fires. Attempts at assessing ladder fuels have been either expensive and spatially limited quantified approaches or unrepeatable and variable expert opinion strategies. We have developed a mixed semiquantitative, semiqualitative approach using a flow chart that systematizes observations and constrains judgments and decisionmaking. The ladder fuel hazard assessment (LaFHA) approach leads to ladder hazard ratings and some quantified observed data; it can be repeated across a very large area at relatively low cost and, because of the systematic and constrained approach, produces results that are mostly consistent and repeatable. Key attributes assessed are clumping of low aerial fuels, height to live crown base, and maximum gaps in vertical fuel ladders. Three field seasons of testing and implementing the LaFHA approach resulted in almost 4,000 observations. For the study area in the northern Sierra Nevada, California, more than a quarter of sites were rated high hazard and about 40% more were moderate risk. Data are presented on heights to live crown base and maximum gaps for each of the rated hazard categories.

Keywords: fire behavior; fire ecology; fire hazard; ladder fuels

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-04-01

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  • Each regional journal of applied forestry focuses on research, practice, and techniques targeted to foresters and allied professionals in specific regions of the United States and Canada. The Western Journal of Applied Forestry covers the western United States, including Alaska, and western Canada; WJAF will also consider manuscripts reporting research in northern Mexico that has potential application in the southwestern United States.
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