Fire & Fuels Modeling
Post-fire debris flows represent one of the most erosive consequences associated with increasing wildfire severity and investigations into their downstream impacts have been limited. Recent advances have linked existing hydrogeomorphic models to predict potential impacts of post-fire erosion at watershed scales on downstream water resources. Here we address two key limitations in current models: (1) accurate predictions of post-fire debris flow volumes in the absence of triggering storm rainfall intensities and (2) understanding controls on grain sizes produced by post-fire debris flows. We compiled and analysed a novel dataset of depositional volumes and grain size distributions (GSDs) for 59 post-fire debris flows across the Intermountain West (IMW) collected via fieldwork and from the literature. We first evaluated the utility of existing models for post-fire debris flow volume prediction, which were largely developed for Southern California. We then constructed a new post-fire debris flow volume prediction model for the IMW using a combination of Random Forest modelling and regression analysis. We found topography and burn severity to be important variables, and that the percentage of pre-fire soil organic matter was an essential predictor variable. Our model was also capable of predicting debris flow volumes without data for the triggering storm, suggesting that rainfall may be more important as a presence/absence predictor, rather than a scaling variable. We also constructed the first models that predict the median, 16th percentile, and 84th percentile grain sizes, as well as boulder size, produced by post-fire debris flows. These models demonstrate consistent landscape controls on debris flow GSDs that are related to land cover, physical and chemical weathering, and hillslope sediment transport processes. This work advances our ability to predict how post-fire sediment pulses are transported through watersheds. Our models allow for improved pre- and post-fire risk assessments across diverse ranges of watersheds in the IMW.