Fire Intensity / Burn Severity
The ecological effects of forest fires burning with high severity are long-lived and have the greatest impact on vegetation successional trajectories, as compared to low-to-moderate severity fires. The primary drivers of high severity fire are unclear, but it has been hypothesized that wind-driven, large fire-growth days play a significant role, particularly on large fires in forested ecosystems. Here, we examined the relative proportion of classified burn severity for individual daily areas burned that occurred during 42 large forest fires in central Idaho and western Montana from 2005 to 2007 and 2011. Using infrared perimeter data for wildfires with five or more consecutive days of mapped perimeters, we delineated 2697 individual daily areas burned from which we calculated the proportions of each of three burn severity classes (high, moderate, and low) using the differenced normalized burn ratio as mapped for large fires by the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity project. We found that the proportion of high burn severity was weakly correlated (Kendall T = 0.299) with size of daily area burned (DAB). Burn severity was highly variable, even for the largest (95th percentile) in DAB, suggesting that other variables than fire extent influence the ecological effects of fires. We suggest that these results do not support the prioritization of large runs during fire rehabilitation efforts, since the underlying assumption in this prioritization is a positive relationship between severity and area burned in a day.