Fire Engineering - Research Areas - Civil Engineering - Universityof Canterbury

Recent areas of research

Fire Dynamics

Upholstered furniture

Flame height experimentA significant amount of research has been carried out on the burning characteristics of New Zealand upholstered furniture largely sponsored by the Foundation for Research Science and Technology. Experiments have been undertaken at small scale, using the cone calorimeter, and a large scale under our furniture calorimeter.

Key publications

  • Martini P, Spearpoint M J, Ingham P E. Low-cost wool-based fire blocking inter-liners for upholstered furniture. Fire Safety Journal, 45(4) 238-248, [weblink] 2010.
  • Enright P A, Fleischmann C M, Vandevelde P. CBUF Model II applied to exemplary New Zealand furniture (NZ-CBUF), Fire and Materials, v.25 no.3, 2001, pp. 203-7.

Flame spread

Fire Experiment image Research has investigated flame spread over wood materials and in particular New Zealand species and products. We are using our LIFT (Lateral Ignition and Flame Transport) and RIFT (Reduced scale Ignition and Flame spread Technique) setups to compare properties obtained from the two methods.

Key publications

  • Tobeck D O, Spearpoint M J, Fleischmann C M. A mechanistic method for scrutinising LIFT ignition data. Fire and Materials, 35(3) 129-141, [weblink] 2011.
  • Merryweather G, Spearpoint M J. Flame spread measurements on wood products using the ASTM E 1321 LIFT apparatus and a reduced scale adaptation of the cone calorimeter. Fire and Materials, 34(3) 109-136, [weblink] 2010.
  • Spearpoint M, Huynh M, Moghtaderi B, Merryweather G. Flame spread measurements of New Zealand timber using an adaptation of the cone calorimeter. APEC Fire Safe Use of Timber in Construction Seminar, Wellington, May. 2005.


Cone CalorimeterResearch on ignition has supported our work on New Zealand upholstered furniture and more recently on our flame spread testing of New Zealand wood products. We use the cone calorimeter, the ISO 5657 ignition apparatus and RIFT for this work. In addition we have been working with the School of Forestry and the Department of Conservation (DOC) to investigate the ignition of New Zealand grassland fuels.

Key publications

  • Baker G, Fleury R, Spearpoint M, Fleischmann C, Wade C. Ignition of secondary objects in a design fire simulation tool, Fire Safety Science, (10): 1359-1372, [weblink] 2011.
  • Wakelin H M, Anderson S A J, Spearpoint M J, Cochrane C H. Ignition thresholds for grassland fuels and management implications. Proc. 3rd Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference, 25 – 29 October, Spokane, Washington, USA, 2010.
  • Merryweather G, Spearpoint M J. Ignition of New Zealand wood products in the LIFT, RIFT and ISO 5657 apparatus using the ASTM E 1321-97 protocol. Journal of Fire Sciences, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 63-88 [weblink]. 2008.
  • Spearpoint M J, Olenick S M, Torero J L, Steinhaus T. Ignition performance of new and used motor vehicle upholstery fabrics. Fire and Materials, vol 29, pp. 265-282 [weblink]. 2005.

Flame height and radiation

Flame height experiment imageResearch into using digital video imaging techniques to obtain flame characteristics has been ongoing. The initial work was carried out in conjunction with Paul Mason, Alan McKinnon and Keith Unsworth, Lincoln University, Applied Computing Group and Chris Rogers who visited New Zealand from Tufts University, USA. Further work has been undertaken more recently by our Master students.

In addition, Peter Cumber, Herriot-Watt University, Scotland carried out a numerical analysis of jet flame lengths while on an EPRSC funded visit here and it is hoped that the digital video techniques can be applied to future collaborative work.

Key publications

  • Fleury R, Spearpoint M, Fleischmann C. Evaluation of thermal radiation models for fire spread analysis. Fire and Evacuation Modeling Conference 2011, Aug 15-16, Baltimore, MD, USA, 2011.
  • Mason P S, Fleischmann C M, Rogers C B, McKinnon A E, Unsworth K, Spearpoint M J. Estimating thermal radiation fields from 3D flame reconstruction. Fire Technology, 45(1) 1-22, 2009.
  • Cumber P S, Spearpoint M J. A computational flame length methodology for propane jet fires. Fire Safety Journal, Vol. 41, Issue 3, pp.215-228 [ weblink]. 2006


Research has used saltwater modelling experiments and the Streams software suite developed by Roger Nokes to obtain data on the gravity current mixing that occurs prior to a backdraft.

Key publications

  • Fleischmann C F, McGrattan K. Numerical and experimental gravity currents related to backdrafts, Fire Safety Journal, v.33, 1999.

Salt water flow fire experiment image

Compartment fires

The effects of compartments on the burning characteristics of fires have been investigated by two of our PhD students. The work has included experiments under the furniture calorimeter with a range of burning and ventilation conditions. Results from the experiments have been compared with predictions made by the FDS field model.

Key publications

  • Shelley J P, Spearpoint M J, Bittern A. Tenability analysis of television fires in a sprinkler protected compartment. Journal of Applied Fire Science, 16(1) 35-70, [weblink] 2009.
  • Parkes A R, Fleischmann C M. The Impact of Location and Ventilation on Pool Fire in a Compartment. Proceedings 8th Intl. Symposium on Fire Safety Science, Beijing, China, 2005.
  • Yii E H, Fleischmann C M, Buchanan A H. Vent flows in fire compartments with large openings. Journal of Fire Protection Engineering, 17, 211-237, 2007.

Compartment Fire experiment  Compartment Fire experiment