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Fire Ecology and Fire Management

Module titleFire Ecology and Fire Management
Module codeGEO3241
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Claire Belcher (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Wildland fires pose a great tension between man, ecosystems and the balance of our planet, not least because large, dangerous, uncontainable wildfires are becoming more frequent, e.g. Black Saturday Bush Fires, Australia 2009, burned 4500 km2; Fort McMurray, Canada, 2016, 5896 km2; Portuguese wildfires 2017, 5200 km2. Many of these fires burn at the wildland-urban-interface, leading to loss of life, homes and infrastructure. However, this picture is set against the need for fire to maintain the health of many ecosystems, which provides those researching and managing fires with a huge challenge; how do we balance the natural requirement of wildland fire with the need to preserve life and infrastructure?

This module will provide a fascinating overview of the ecology of fire and its role in maintaining ecosystems, how weather and fuel types interact to determine the nature and behaviour of fire and will be your essential guide to current fire management challenges.

Module aims - intentions of the module

In this module you will:

  • be shown that wildfires have two faces - they create and destroy, but are an essential part of the Earth system;
  • taught what controls variations in fire behaviour, where you will learn how to make predictions of fire behaviour for different weather conditions and different fuel (vegetation) types;
  • learn about current management challenges for different countries (including the UK) and gain the ability to consider how you might approach managing fires when confronted with different fire behaviour (fire suppression versus prescribed fire requirements);
  • learn to critique and consider the challenges of managing fire for healthy ecosystems and also safe communities.

In this module I aim to enhance your employability by challenging you to learn and assess information in a range of ways. You will be introduced and guided through the current state-of-the-art in a series of lectures, you will be able to explore how a simple computer model can inform you about fire behaviour and how to use these data to determine actions you might take, enhancing your analytical and decision-making skills. You will learn critical thinking that applies to policy-making decisions and learn to communicate in simple journalistic terms, the challenges that we face in respect to fire.

You will be taught by Professor Claire Belcher one of the UKs leading wildFIRE scientists and director of the multi-million euro University of Exeter wildFIRE Lab. My research addresses new challenges in fire sciences where I work with members of the UK Forestry Commission, the UK wildfire forums and with the US Forest Service to better understand the effects of fire on ecosystems. My team and I utilise the state-of-the-art experimental fire lab to explore the flammability of fuels and also undertake field scale prescribed and experimental fires in both the UK and USA. As such this module will provide you with information taken from the forefront of the field and is the only module of its kind in the UK that can put you in touch with research frontiers in the field of wildland fire.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Explain in detail the ecology of fire (fire effects on ecosystem and how ecosystems themselves determine fire activity
  • 2. Describe and explain the different types of fire and the differences in their likely effects
  • 3. Critically evaluate what it means to fight fire and be capable of making fire behaviour predictions
  • 4. Discuss the range of challenges in managing wildland fires
  • 5. Describe the debates surrounding the use of prescribed fire as a management tool

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Assess contrasting and complementary scientific theories, particularly in respect to fire ecology
  • 7. Gain awareness of the nature of data that can be used in simple computer based numerical models
  • 8. Describe the debates surrounding management of ecosystems
  • 9. Generate your own knowledge and gain understanding from a range of disciplinary practices, including self-study, laboratory classes and professional writing
  • 10. Set the challenges for the discipline in terms of policy-making

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 11. Document and synthesise a large range of related knowledge
  • 12. Consider the importance of making management decisions that may act at the policy-driving level
  • 13. Gather literature, review data and develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 14. Convey complex information in simple terms and use this to debate and guide future decision-making
  • 15. Formulate and evaluate questions and identify and evaluate approaches to problem-solving

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Until you have seen and experienced a wildfire it is hard to appreciate the challenges that land managers and fire fighters face. To put this into context you will have the opportunity to be introduced to and watch a Hollywood movie that will give you an idea of the scale of wildfires, what it is like to fight fire and be there on the fireline. This aims to set the scene for the reality of predicting, and the tension of managing fire, both for ecosystem health and to preserve human life throughout the rest of this module. ‘Fire Ecology and Fire Management’ will combine a mixture of lectures, that seek to introduce to a large range of wildfire challenges, with laboratory practical classes that will allow you to understand the factors that influence fire behaviour and to make fire behaviour predictions (using software used by real fire managers). These practical classes will provide you the key skills with which to undertake part of the coursework for GEO3241.

You will learn about:

  • The ecology of fire.
  • The distribution of wildfires across the globe, the different types of fire and how to understand fire behaviour.
  • What is it like to be on the fireline and how fire can be managed with fire.
  • How historical land management practices have influenced wildfires for good and bad over the long term.
  • Debates surrounding the use of prescribed fire for fire risk versus ecosystem health.
  • The current and future challenge for fire management in the UK.

In your coursework you will be challenged to:

  • Generate your own fire behaviour prediction for a given fuel type and weather conditions and briefly suggest what management approaches might be required to contain the fire.
  • Write an opinion piece or journalistic style report (e.g. for Scientific American, National Geographic etc.) on challenges or management concerns for a selected range of topics that relate to the taught module content.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching3Film
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11Lectures (5 x 2 hours 1 x 1 hour)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching12Laboratory classes (predicting fire behaviour) (6 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching4Practical coursework assignment (1 x 4 hours)
Guided Independent Study10Reading and preparation for using fire behaviour software and its use in management for assessed practical report
Guided Independent Study55Reading and research for Magazine article coursework
Guided Independent Study55Reading and research for exams


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Guidance in laboratory classes16 hoursAllPeer and tutor

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination502 hoursAllWritten
Magazine article301500 wordsAllWritten
Fire behaviour prediction and management decision short report204 hour timeslot – template/ answer sheet provided to completeAllWritten


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExaminationAllAugust Ref/Def
Magazine articleMagazine articleAllAugust Ref/Def
Fire behaviour prediction and management decision short reportFire behaviour prediction and management decision short reportAllAugust Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination or submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Mainly through directed and other reading of primary science literature and relevant wildland fire management data sources. Details will be provided during lectures and practicals.

The following may also be useful (but should not be considered the module texts):

  • Belcher, C (Ed) (2013 Fire Phenomena and the Earth System an Interdisciplinary Guide to Fire Science. Wiley-Blackwell
  • Scott, Bowman, Bond, Pyne and Alexander 2014. Fire on Earth An Introduction. Wiley-Blackwell

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Wildfire, fire management, prescribed fire, fire behaviour, fire ecology

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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