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High severity fire: evaluating its key drivers and mapping its probability across western US forests

Author(s): Sean A. Parks, Lisa M. Holsinger, Matthew Panunto, William Matt Jolly, Solomon Z. Dobrowski, Gregory K. Dillon
Year Published: 2018
Description:

Wildland fire is a critical process in forests of the western United States (US). Variation in fire behavior, which is heavily influenced by fuel loading, terrain, weather, and vegetation type, leads to heterogeneity in fire severity across landscapes. The relative importance of these factors in driving fire severity, however, is poorly understood. Here, we explore the drivers of high severity fire for forested ecoregions in the western US over the period 2002-2015. Fire severity was quantified using a satellite-inferred index of severity, the relativized burn ratio (RBR). For each ecoregion, we used boosted regression trees (BRT) to model high severity fire as a function of live fuel, topography, climate, and fire weather. We found that live fuel, on average, was the most important factor driving high severity fire among ecoregions (average relative importance = 53.1%) and was the most important factor in 14 of 19 ecoregions. Fire weather was the second most important factor among ecoregions (average relative importance = 22.9%) and was the most important factor in five ecoregions. Climate (13.7%) and topography (10.3%) were less influential. We also predicted the probability of high severity fire, were a fire to occur, using recent (2016) satellite imagery to characterize live fuel for a subset of ecoregions in which the model skill was deemed acceptable (n=13). These 'wall-to-wall' gridded ecoregional maps provide relevant and up-to-date information for scientists and managers who are tasked with managing fuel and wildland fire. Lastly, we provide an example of the predicted likelihood of high severity fire under moderate and extreme fire weather before and after fuel reduction treatments, thereby demonstrating how our framework and model predictions can potentially serve as a performance metric for land management agencies tasked with reducing hazardous fuel across large landscapes.

Citation: Parks S.A., Holsinger L.M., Panunto M.H., Jolly W.M., Dobrowski S.Z., and Dillon G.K. In press. High severity fire: evaluating its key drivers and mapping its probability across western US forests. Environmental Research Letters. March 2018. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aab791
Topic(s): Fire History, Frequency, Fire Regime, Fire Intensity / Burn Severity
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 17224
FRAMES RCS number: 25960
Record updated: May 24, 2018