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A comparison of landscape fuel treatment strategies to mitigate wildland fire risk in the urban interface and preserve old forest structure

Author(s): Alan A. Ager, Nicole M. Vaillant, Mark A. Finney
Year Published: 2010

We simulated fuel reduction treatments on a 16,000 ha study area in Oregon, US, to examine tradeoffs between placing fuel treatments near residential structures within an urban interface, versus treating stands in the adjacent wildlands to meet forest health and ecological restoration goals. The treatment strategies were evaluated by simulating 10,000 wildfires with random ignition locations and calculating burn probabilities by 0.5 m flame length categories for each 30 m x 30 m pixel in the study area. The burn conditions for the wildfires were chosen to replicate severe fire events based on 97th percentile historic weather conditions. The burn probabilities were used to calculate wildfire risk profiles for each of the 170 residential structures within the urban interface, and to estimate the expected (probabilistic) wildfire mortality of large trees (>53.3 cm) that are a key indicator of stand restoration objectives. Expected wildfire mortality for large trees was calculated by building flame length mortality functions using the Forest Vegetation Simulator, and subsequently applying these functions to the burn probability outputs. Results suggested that treatments on a relatively minor percentage of the landscape (10%) resulted in a roughly 70% reduction in the expected wildfire loss of large trees for the restoration scenario. Treating stands near residential structures resulted in a higher expected loss of large trees, but relatively lower burn probability and flame length within structure buffers. Substantial reduction in burn probability and flame length around structures was also observed in the restoration scenario where fuel treatments were located 5-10 km distant. These findings quantify off-site fuel treatment effects that are not analyzed in previous landscape fuel management studies. The study highlights tradeoffs between ecological management objectives on wildlands and the protection of residential structures in the urban interface. We also advance the application of quantitative risk analysis to the problem of wildfire threat assessment.

Citation: Ager, Alan A.; Vaillant, Nicole M.; Finney, Mark A. 2010. A comparison of landscape fuel treatment strategies to mitigate wildland fire risk in the urban interface and preserve old forest structure. Forest Ecology and Management. 259(8): 1556-1570
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Simulation Modeling, Fuels, Fuel Treatments & Effects, Risk, Risk assessment, Wildland Urban Interface
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 12725
FRAMES RCS number: 9019
Record updated: Mar 5, 2019