Deriving fire behavior metrics from UAS imagery

Christopher J. Moran, Carl A. Seielstad, Matthew R. Cunningham, Valentijn Hoff, Russell A. Parsons, Lloyd Queen, Katie Sauerbrey, Tim Wallace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The emergence of affordable unmanned aerial systems (UAS) creates new opportunities to study fire behavior and ecosystem pattern—process relationships. A rotor-wing UAS hovering above a fire provides a static, scalable sensing platform that can characterize terrain, vegetation, and fire coincidently. Here, we present methods for collecting consistent time-series of fire rate of spread (RoS) and direction in complex fire behavior using UAS-borne NIR and Thermal IR cameras. We also develop a technique to determine appropriate analytical units to improve statistical analysis of fire-environment interactions. Using a hybrid temperature-gradient threshold approach with data from two prescribed fires in dry conifer forests, the methods characterize complex interactions of observed heading, flanking, and backing fires accurately. RoS ranged from 0–2.7 m/s. RoS distributions were all heavy-tailed and positively-skewed with area-weighted mean spread rates of 0.013–0.404 m/s. Predictably, the RoS was highest along the primary vectors of fire travel (heading fire) and lower along the flanks. Mean spread direction did not necessarily follow the predominant head fire direction. Spatial aggregation of RoS produced analytical units that averaged 3.1–35.4% of the original pixel count, highlighting the large amount of replicated data and the strong influence of spread rate on unit size.

Original languageEnglish
Article number36
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • Analytical units
  • Drones
  • Fire rate of spread
  • Pseudo-replication
  • Spatial autocorrelation
  • Thermal imagery


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