Abstract Many municipal waste combustors use preheated primary air in the first zone to dry the waste. In most cases the preheat temperature does not exceed 140°C. In previous experiments it is found that at temperatures around 200°C, in some circumstances, self- or spontaneous ignition can be achieved. Using preheated air can be a powerful tool to control the ignition and combustion processes in a waste combustion plant. To use this tool effectively, the influence of the preheated air on the fuel bed needs to be well understood. The present work is done to develop a model that predicts the spontaneous ignition temperature of the fuel bed and the critical temperature of the primary air at which the fuel bed ignites. The influence of primary air flow rate and addition of inert are modeled for a packed bed of wood. From the model a dimensionless parameter is derived in which all investigated parameters (fuel type, air flow rate and inert fraction) are combined. This parameter appears to be sufficient to describe both the spontaneous ignition and the critical air temperature. The results from the model are validated with experiments presented in previous work . The model slightly over-predicts the temperatures by 6–7°C, and the trends are predicted well. Besides calculations for the temperatures, the ignition time and location are calculated as well. The ignition time is under-predicted due to the assumption of a uniform temperature distribution inside the particles. The location of ignition is predicted well. For char, a minimum spontaneous ignition temperature is derived from DSC measurements. The temperature at which the interaction of char and oxygen switches from endo- to exothermic seems to coincide with the spontaneous ignition temperature.