Encyclopedia of Wildfires and Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Fires

Living Edition
| Editors: Samuel L. Manzello

Surface Fuels

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-51727-8_260-1



A surface fuel is defined as live or dead vegetation or a combination of both that occurs on the ground above the organic or fermentation layer (duff) but below large shrub and tree canopies. Common surface fuels include small trees, grasses and forbs, small shrubs, twigs, logs, needles, leaves, lichen, and moss.


Wildland fuels are defined as the live and dead vegetative matter that contribute to wildland fire and are often arranged into distinct categories including trees, shrubs, grasses, wood, litter, and duff (Fig. 1; Ottmar et al. 2007, Prichard et al. 2013). The array of these categories is defined as a fuel bed. The small trees, grass and forbs, small shrubs, wood, and litter that occur beneath larger shrubs and tree canopies (usually <2 m in depth) but above the organic layer are categorized as surface fuels (Brown 1981; Keane 2013). Wildland fires are often initiated at...
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Brown JK (1981) Bulk densities of nonuniform surface fuels and their application to fire modeling. For Sci 27(4):667–683CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Keane RE (2013) Describing wildland surface fuel loading for fire management: a review of approaches, methods and systems. Int J Wildland Fire 22:51–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ottmar RD, Sandberg DV, Riccardi CL, Prichard SJ (2007) An overview of the fuel characteristic classification system – quantifying, classifying, and creating fuelbeds for resource planning. Can J For Res 37(12):2383–2393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Prichard SJ, Sandberg DV, Ottmar RD, Eberhardt E, Andreu A, Eagle P, Swedin K (2013) Fuel characteristic classification system version 3.0: technical documentation. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-887. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. Portland, Oregon, p 79Google Scholar
  5. Prichard SJ, Andreu AG, Ottmar RD, Eberhard E (2019) Fuel Characteristic Classification System (FCCS) Field sampling and fuelbed development guide. General technical report PNW-GTR-972. US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, p 86Google Scholar
  6. Rowell E (2017) Virtualization of fuelbeds: building the next generation of fuels data for multiple-scale fire modeling and ecological analysis. Doctoral Dissertation, University of MontanaGoogle Scholar
  7. Rowell E, Loudermilk EL, Seielstad C, O’Brien JJ (2016) Using simulated 3D surface fuelbeds and terrestrial laser scan data to develop inputs to fire behavior models. Can J Remote 42(5):443–459.  https://doi.org/10.1080/07038992.2016.1220827CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research StationPacific Wildland Fire Science LaboratorySeattleUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Sara McAllister
    • 1
  1. 1.USDA Forest ServiceRMRS Missoula Fire Sciences LaboratoryMissoulaUSA