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How do fires spread? Solving the mysteries of firebrands

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“Embers are wildfire’s emissaries,” states the Oregon State University bio of Dr. David Blunck, an associate professor in the OSU College of Engineering.

“By understanding how embers form and travel through the air, scientists can more accurately predict how fire will spread.”

This Oregon Public Broadcasting video shares how Blunck’s team conducts controlled combustion experiments to better understand how different trees and bushes “get lofted in the wind and come down,” potentially starting additional fires. Blunck adds: “So I like to say, burn and learn.”

testing firebrands
Those hot flying embers are called firebrands, and knowing what types of firebrands are produced by different materials can help firefighters get out ahead of a fire’s potential paths. From Encyclopedia of Wildfires and Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Fires:

“Firebrands and embers are similar items but with a slight distinction. ‘Ember’ refers to any small, hot, carbonaceous particle. Meanwhile, ‘firebrand’ specifically denotes an object which is airborne and carried for some distance in an airstream. Thus, aerodynamic properties of firebrands become an important characteristic that needs to be considered. Firebrands are also sometimes referred to as “flying brands” or “brands,” and all of these terms have the same meaning. Since firebrands or embers can be burning (flaming or smoldering), they can serve as ignition sources for vegetation, structures, or other target fuels.”

burning embers
Related videos about fire, firefighters, and fire science:
• Beaver dams and wildfire, a stop-motion demonstration
• The Fire Lab and the Mysterious Science of Fire
• What is fire? Is it a solid, a liquid, or a gas?

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