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Fuel Characteristic Classification System

Information compiled by Leandro Gonzalez

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The Fuel Characteristic Classification System (FCCS) is a comprehensive software system used to build, characterize, and classify fuelbeds. The main purpose is to accurately capture the complex structure and geographic diversity of fuel components across landscapes. FCCS is also capable of assessing elements of human (e.g. logging slash) and natural (e.g. insect and disease) change. The system offers consistently organized fuels data along with numerical inputs to fire behavior, fire effects, and dynamic vegetation models. • Users can access a fuelbed from the national fuelbed database within the FCCS. • When the user has completed editing the fuelbed data, FCCS reports the assigned and calculated fuel characteristics for each existing fuelbed component including the trees, shrubs, grasses, woody fuels, litter, and duff. • The system also calculates a surface fire behavior, crown fire, and available fuel potential index between 0 to 9 for each FCCS National or customized fuelbed. These FCCS fire potential scores facilitate standardized communication among users. It also provides an index representation of the intrinsic capacity of each fuelbed for surface fire behavior, crown fire and available consumption of fuels. The physical attributes, potential fire behavior, and fire effects of fuelbeds vary from case to case. FCCS was designed to represent the diversity of fuels found along the United States and predict their relative fire hazard. It consists of a large database of physical parameters that describe the abundance, physical character, and arrangement of wildland fuelbeds. It predicts surface fire behavior and quantifies carbon stores for each calculated fuelbed. FCCS also provides the necessary inputs to run fuel consumption and emission production models such as Consume 3_0 and the Fire Emission Production Simulator (FEPS).


FCCS quantifies and classifies the structural and geographic diversity of wildland fuels. The software also predicts their relative fire hazard. Newer versions (e.g. 2.2) also predict surface fire behavior and quantify carbon stores for each calculated fuelbed.


The software was developed as a joint effort by The Fire and Environmental Research Applications team (FERA) of the Pacific Northwest Research Station Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory, the U.S Department of Agriculture, and the Forest Service in 1999. Current development is moving toward a web-based application and inclusion into the Intergovernmental Fuel Treatment Decision Support system.



To run FCCS, users need to identify the Bailey's ecoregion and vegetation form for an assessment area. The user also needs to select the fuelbed prototype (from their database) that most closely represents fuelbeds within the assessment area. The existing fuelbed descriptions were compiled from published & unpublished literature, fuels photo series, fuels data sets and expert opinion. Alternatively, users can customize existing descriptions to create a set of fuelbeds to represent a particular scale of interest. The default set of environmental variables can also be customized if environmental conditions vary across the assessment area. These environmental inputs include moisture content (%) of live herbaceous and shrub fuels, 1-hr, 10-hr and 100-hr woody fuels, midflame windspeed, and slope gradient.


When the user has selected a fuelbed or edited the fuelbed data, FCCS reports the fuel characteristics for each existing fuelbed component including the trees, shrubs, grasses, woody fuels, litter, and duff. FCCS also calculates 1) surface fire behavior, crown fire and available fuel potential index based on a scale of 0- 9; 2) surface fire behavior (reaction intensity, rate of spread, and flamelength,for each fuelbed; and 3) cross-walks each fuelbed to one of the 13 original fire behavior fuel models and 40 standard fuel models. Newer versions of the tool (e.g. version 2.2) calculate carbon storage (by fuelbed category) and combustible carbon in each category based upon fuel moisture scenarios.

Restrictions and Limitations

This software creates point-based calculations of fuel characteristics and potential fire behavior but does not simulate fire spread across landscapes. However, because fuelbeds have no inherent scale, FCCS outputs can be easily mapped in GIS by assigning polygons or raster cells with a unique fuelbed identification number (Figure 1). If the user intends to map FCCS predictions across landscapes, it is key to consider that environmental variables have a considerable effect over FCCS predictive capabilities of surface and crown fire behavior. If environmental conditions change throughout the landscape, researchers need to create custom fuelbeds including user defined environmental variables. The FCCS batch mode is best suited for large numbers of fuelbeds and can accommodate custom environmental variables.

Figure 1. FCCS output displayed in a GIS environment. Source: US Forest Service website.

As it was previously mentioned, FCCS provides a crosswalk to one of the 13 original fire behavior fuel models and one of the 40 standard fuel models. This is a static crosswalk based on predicted surface fire flame length and rate of spread under an input set of environmental variables. Differently from FARSITE, the crosswalk is invalid under any other environmental scenario and is usually not appropriate for simulating fire spread across landscapes. Fuel model crosswalks may be used in FlamMap as long as input wind, slope and fuel moistures remain the same as in the original FCCS prediction.

Accessing the Tool & Additional Information

A user guide, tutorial, and peer-reviewed publications can be found at View installation instructions and download the tool: Limited training sessions on using FCCS are available:

Newest FCCS Version 2.2

• User input screens are now offered in both metric and English measurement systems.

• Minor corrections were made to the total carbon report and to the fuel model crosswalk calculations.

• FCCS crown fire potentials were amended to more accurately represent recently dead trees with red foliage.

• The FCCS batch mode interface was slightly modified to accommodate large batches of fuelbeds and to remove minor errors.

• A combustible-carbon report was added to the batch calculator.


FCCS fuelbeds, their characteristics, and fuelbed potentials are being incorporated into research and management applications.

Software/Hardware Requirements

FCCS will run on many different operating systems, including Linux, Macintosh, and Microsoft Windows. To run FCCS, your computer must have a current version of Java Virtual Machine (version 1.6 or greater) installed.

Examples of Rangeland Uses

McKenzie et al. (2007). Demonstrated use of the Fuel Characteristic Classification System (FCCS) for fuel mapping at two scales and resolutions.

Riccardi et al. (2007). Designed the FCCS to create fuelbeds and classify those fuelbeds for their capacity to support fire and consume fuels.

Rangeland Studies References

Riccardi CL, Prichard SJ, Sandberg DV, and Ottmar RD. 2007. Quantifying physical charcteristics of wildland fuels using the Fuel Characteristic Classification System. In Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 37: 2413-2420.

McKenzie D, Raymond CL, Kellogg KB, Norheim RA, Andreu AG, Bayard AC, Kopper KE, and Elman E. 2007. Mapping fuels at multiple scales: landscape application of the Fuel Characteristic Classification System. In Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 37: 2421-2437.

Technical References

US Forest Service. Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team.


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tools/fuel_characteristic_classification_system.txt · Last modified: 2012/07/14 13:31 by leandro