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Photoload - Visually estimating fuel loading

A new fuel loading sampling method is developed to quickly and accurately estimate loadings for six surface fuel components using downward-looking and oblique photographs depicting sequences of graduated fuel loadings by fuel component. 

Estimates of fuel loadings in forest and rangeland ecosystems of the United States are critical for accurately predicting fire behavior and effects of alternative fuel and ecosystem restoration treatments. Accurately measuring surface fuel loadings in the field is difficult because it requires a complex integration of several sampling methods designed for implementation at disparate scales. A new fuel sampling method, called the photoload sampling technique, was developed to quickly and accurately estimate loadings for six surface fuel components using downward-looking and oblique photographs depicting sequences of graduated fuel loadings by fuel component. The six components are the four size classes of downed dead woody (1 hour, 10 hour, 100 hour, 1000 hr), shrub, and herbaceous fuels. This technique involves visually comparing fuel conditions observed in the field with photoload sequences to estimate fuel loadings. Photoload sequences are a series of downward-looking and close-up oblique photographs depicting a sequence of graduated fuel loadings of synthetic fuelbeds for each of the six fuel components. There is a standard sampling protocol that uses the developed photoload sequences to estimate fuel loading in the field. Photoload sequences were developed for common fuel components of the northern Rocky Mountains of Montana, USA. A companion publication details the methods used to create the photoload sequences. There is also a training guide to calibrate visual estimates using photos, and there is currently a guide on how to create photoload sequences in the field. A comprehensive evaluation of the technique using 29 participants across five sites in western Montana is also available along with a video.

Photo: Photoload examples

An example of a series of downward pointing pictures of graduated fuel loadings to estimate actual fuel loadings in the field.

Modified: Mar 10, 2020

Select Publications & Products

Stalling, Chris; Keane, Robert E.; 2020. Creating photographic loading sequences in the field for the photoload sampling technique. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-XXX. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station XXX p.

Keane, R. E., and L. J. Dickinson. 2007. The Photoload sampling technique: estimating surface fuel loadings using downward looking photographs. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-190, USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Keane, R. E., and L. J. Dickinson. 2007. Development and evaluation of the photoload sampling technique. Research Paper RMRS-RP-61CD, USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Sikkink, P., and R. E. Keane. 2008. A comparison of five sampling techniques to estimate surface fuel loading in montane forests. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 17:363-379.

Holley, Violet J.; Keane, Robert E. 2010. A visual training tool for the Photoload sampling technique. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-242. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 235 p.

Keane, R.E. and K. Gray. 2013. Comparing three sampling techniques to estimate down dead woody surface fuel biomass. International Journal of Wildland Fire 22:1093-1107.