Ecological - First Order
Fire Intensity / Burn Severity
Over the past several decades, size and extent of wildfires have been increasing in the western United States (Westerling et al. 2006; Littell et al. 2009). As the number and size of recent wildfires increases across landscapes, fire managers are questioning how past wildfires may influence the spread and effects of subsequent wildfires. Understanding the potential impacts of previous fires on the spread and severity of subsequent fires is not only important to nearly all aspects of land management in the West, but also to the development of fire and fuels management strategies and determination of firefighting resource allocations. If previous wildfires are effectively reducing the severity or spread of subsequent wildfires, we may be able to reduce the number of firefighting personnel in reburned areas and thus reduce their exposure to hazards such as high snag densities, excessive downed wood, and eroded landscapes, which are common in previously burned sites (Kathy Geier-Hayes, Boise NF Fire Ecologist, pers. comm.). Understanding how areas burned by previous wildfires affect fire behavior could help in managing future fires and decrease costs of fire management during and after subsequent wildfires. One recent study has shown that, where possible, allowing more wildfires to burn without active suppression may decrease future wildfire suppression costs (Houtman et al. 2013).