Influence of slope on propagating fire fronts

Niklas Manz

Current USDA Forest Service fire research is exclusively done with real-scale forest fire or in large settings with, for example, bales of straw. This project investigates propagating fire fronts up and down a slope using a matchstick array [C. Punckt, P. S. Bodega, P. Kaira, and H. H. Rotermund, Wildfires in the lab: Simple experiment and models for the exploration of excitable dynamics, J. Chem. Educ., 92(8), 1330-1337, 2015]. In the article, the authors explained and simulated some propagation conditions in a planar system. This project explores the fire propagation up and down a slope with three different models: Constant distance of the match position in x-direction (Δx), constant distance of the match heads along the slope (Δr), constant hight difference between match heads (Δy). For each model, we created 3D-printed molds with angles between 0 degrees and 45 degrees.


  • Sloped Experiments: Effect of a wildfire propagating up or down an incline. Previous students brought already interesting results which should be explored in more detail. 
  • Match stick types: Preliminary results showed that different match stick types create fire fronts propagating with different velocities. But more data points are necessary. 
  • Thermal imaging: Our newest addition is a FLIR IR-camera A325sc with a temperature resolution of less than 50 mK for up to 2000 degrees C. Now, we are able to locate the hotter match head through the fames and will be able to detect the fire front more accurately.
  • Sloped Simulations: We use a Cellular Automata Model in Matlab to simulate fire front behavior under sloped conditions. Besides planar/straight fronts, we are investigating the influence of i) the slope on fire spirals and ii) the inhomogeneity of the matches on the shape of fire fronts. A further step would be to investigate the influence of varying slopes – as in real mountainous environment.

For more information, please visit the Wave Lab website