Background: Model simulations of wildfire spread and assessments of their accuracy are needed for understanding and managing altered fire regimes in semiarid regions. The accuracy of wildfire spread simulations can be evaluated from post hoc comparisons of simulated and actual wildfire perimeters, but this requires information on pre-fire vegetation fuels that is typically not available. We assessed the accuracy of the Fire-Area Simulator (FARSITE) model parameterized with maps of fire behavior fuel models (FBFMs) obtained from the widely used LANDFIRE, as well as alternative means which utilized the classification of Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP) satellite-derived vegetation cover maps to create FBFM maps. We focused on the 2015 Soda wildfire, which burned 113,000 ha of sagebrush steppe in the western USA, and then assessed the transferability of our RAP-to-FBFM selection process, which produced the most accurate reconstruction of the Soda wildfire, on the nearby 2016 Cherry Road wildfire.
Results: Parameterizing FARSITE with maps of FBFMs from LANDFIRE resulted in low levels of agreement between simulated and observed area burned, with maximum Sorensen’s coefficient (SC) and Cohen’s kappa (K) values of 0.38 and 0.36, respectively. In contrast, maps of FBFMs derived from unsupervised classification of RAP vegetation cover maps led to much greater simulated-to-observed burned area agreement (SC = 0.70, K = 0.68). The FBFM map that generated the greatest simulated-to-observed burned area agreement for the Soda wildfire was then used to crosswalk FBFMs to another nearby wildfire (2016 Cherry Road), and this FBFM selection led to high FARSITE simulated-to-observed burned area agreement (SC = 0.80, K = 0.79).
Conclusions: Using RAP to inform pre-fire FBFM selection increased the accuracy of FARSITE simulations compared to parameterization with the standard LANDFIRE FBFM maps, in sagebrush steppe. Additionally, the crosswalk method appeared to have regional generalizability. Flanking and backfires were the primary source of disagreements between simulated and observed fire spread in FARSITE, which are sources of error that may require modeling of lateral heterogeneity in fuels and fire processes at finer scales than used here.