The Energy Release Component is a number related to the available energy (BTU) per unit area (square foot) within the flaming front at the head of a fire. Daily variations in ERC are due to changes in moisture content of the various fuels present, both live and dead. Since this number represents the potential "heat release" per unit area in the flaming zone, it can provide guidance to several important fire activities. It may also be considered a composite fuel moisture value as it reflects the contribution that all live and dead fuels have to potential fire intensity. The ERC is a cumulative or "build-up" type of index. As live fuels cure and dead fuels dry, the ERC values get higher thus providing a good reflection of drought conditions. The scale is open-ended or unlimited and, as with other NFDRS components, is relative. Conditions producing an ERC value of 24 represent a potential heat release twice that of conditions resulting in an ERC value of 12.
As a reflection of its composite fuel moisture nature, the ERC becomes a relatively stable evaluation tool for planning decisions that might need to be made 24 to 72 hours ahead of an expected fire decision or action. Since wind and slope do not enter into the ERC calculation, the daily variation will be relatively small. The 1000-hr timelag fuel moisture (TLFM) is a primary entry into the ERC calculation through its effect on both living and dead fuel moisture inputs. There may be a tendency to use the 1000-hr TLFM as a separate "index" for drought considerations. A word of caution - any use of the 1000-hr TLFM as a separate "index" must be preceded by an analysis of historical fire weather data to identify critical levels of 1000-hr TLFM. A better tool for measurement of drought conditions is the ERC since it considers both dead and live fuel moistures.