A Comparison of Multitemporal Airborne Laser Scanning Data and the Fuel Characteristics Classification System for Estimating Fuel Load and Consumption

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Michigan Tech Research Institute


Characterizing pre-fire fuel load and fuel consumption are critical for assessing fire behavior, fire effects, and smoke emissions. Two approaches for quantifying fuel load are airborne laser scanning (ALS) and the Fuel Characteristic Classification System (FCCS). The implementation of multitemporal ALS (i.e., the use of two or more ALS datasets across time at a given location) in conjunction with empirical models trained with field data can be used to measure fuel and estimate fuel consumption from a fire. FCCS, adapted for use in LANDFIRE (LF), provides 30 m resolution estimates of fuel load across the contiguous United States and can be used to estimate fuel consumption through software programs such as Fuel and Fire Tools (FFT). This study compares the two approaches for two wildfires in the northwestern United States having predominantly sagebrush steppe and ponderosa pine savanna ecosystems. The results showed that the LF FCCS approach yielded higher pre-fire fuel loads and fuel consumption than the ALS approach and that the coarser scale LF FCCS data did not capture as much heterogeneity as the ALS data. At Tepee, 50.0% of the difference in fuel load and 87.3% of the difference in fuel consumption were associated with distinguishing sparse trees from rangeland. At Keithly, this only accounted for 8.2% and 8.6% of the differences, demonstrating the significance of capturing heterogeneity in rangeland vegetation structure and fire effects. Our results suggest future opportunities to use ALS data to better parametrize fine-scale fuel load variability that LF FCCS does not capture.

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Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences