Quantifying Burning, Heat Transfer, and Material Ignition of Smoldering Firebrand Piles

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Wildfires pose a growing threat for communities along the wildland-urban interface (WUI) around the world driven by a changing climate and expanding urban areas. One of the primary mechanisms by which fires can spread in the WUI are firebrands, airborne embers capable of acting as ignition sources carried in the airstream. Many studies have been conducted on the generation and transport of firebrands, but limited work has been conducted to quantify the heat transfer of firebrand piles to surfaces. A series of three studies are presented here exploring the heat transfer, burning, and material ignition of firebrands. In the first study, the differences between firebrands from structure and vegetation sources was compared. It was found that an ash layer in the vegetation firebrands reduced the heat and mass transfer. In the second study, impact of the surface geometries that firebrands accumulate on was explored. It was found that wall and corner configurations reduced the heat transfer the most and caused piles to burn from the wall surfaces outwards. Flat plate and decking configurations had the highest heat flux due to the lack of flow obstruction. In the final study, a framework was developed for predicting the material ignition resistance reliability exposed to a smoldering firebrand pile. The exposure was based on empirical relations for the heat flux from piles as a function of pile height, porosity, and wind speed. Cone calorimeter data was used to generate material thermal and ignition properties. With these inputs, the framework was used to predict the potential for material ignition thus circumventing the need for costly firebrand tests. This collection of studies provides evidence of the factors that drive firebrand burning behavior and heat transfer and links those aspects to the potential for ignition of construction materials.



firebrands, wildland-urban interface, wildfires, heat transfer