A JFSP Fire Science Exchange Network
Bringing People Together & Sharing Knowledge in the Northern Rockies

Have definitions and standards for fire severity, hazard, and risk improved since 1999?

Date: December 6, 2012
Presenter(s): Penelope Morgan, Colin C. Hardy

In 1998 the General Accounting Office presented to Congress a comprehensive assessment of the wildfire threat to western national forests. The GAO report stated 'In 1995, the [Forest Service] agency estimated that 39 million acres are now at risk of large, uncontrollable, catastrophic fires.' The national assessment and mapping effort to characterize this 'risk' used an approach by which historical fire regimes were mapped, then contrasted with spatial data regarding current ecological conditions. When this approach was discussed at the 1999 conference, 'Crossing the Millennium: Integrating Spatial Technologies and Ecological Principles for a New Age in Fire Management,' more than 20 other papers addressed topics relating to risk, severity, and hazard, yet most related papers then and since have used inconsistent wildfire risk terminology. One of seven specific conference recommendations was: 'More precise and consistent definitions and standards are needed for fire severity, hazard, and risk.' Now, more than 13 years later, we discuss progress. One success is the increasing use of the term 'uncharacteristic' to describing fire processes outside their biophysical baseline conditions. The national LANDFIRE and Fire Regime Condition Class efforts have been useful steps forward. The National Wildfire Coordinating Group's Glossary of Wildland Fire Terminology offers explicit definitions for risk, hazard, and severity. The Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity and Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation efforts have spurred research on quantifying severity. We have begun to recognize that these terms, when used in both fire ecology and fire management, are becoming better integrated into multiple scales of time and space rather than simply being used to describe individual events or states. Advancing effective fire science and management depends on clearly linking conditions before, during and after fires which depends on clear, quantitative, measures of risk, hazard and severity. Presented at the Fifth International Fire Ecology and Management Congress: Uniting Research, Education, and Management; hosted by the Association for Fire Ecology, Dec. 6, 2012, Portland, Oregon. Part of the concurrent session: Looking Back for a Clear View of the Future: 1999 to 2012.

Topic(s): Fire Regime, Fire Intensity / Burn Severity, Risk, Strategic Risk
Ecosystem(s): None
Type: Video
NRFSN number: 14269
FRAMES RCS number: 13762
Record updated: Jun 26, 2018