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Article     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 20(4)

Relative importance of weather and climate on wildfire growth in interior Alaska

John T. Abatzoglou A B and Crystal A. Kolden A

A Department of Geography, University of Idaho, PO BOX 443021, Moscow, ID 83844-3021, USA.
B Corresponding author. Email: jabatzoglou@uidaho.edu

International Journal of Wildland Fire 20(4) 479-486 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF10046
Submitted: 27 April 2010  Accepted: 29 September 2010   Published: 20 June 2011

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Efforts to quantify relationships between climate and wildfire in Alaska have not yet explored the role of higher-frequency meteorological conditions on individual wildfire ignition and growth. To address this gap, meteorological data for 665 large fires that burned across the Alaskan interior between 1980 and 2007 were assessed to determine the respective influence of higher-frequency weather and lower-frequency climate, in terms of both antecedent and post-ignition conditions on fire growth. Antecedent climate exhibited no discernable influence on eventual fire size. In contrast, fire size was sensitive to weather in the days to weeks following ignition, particularly the post-ignition timing of precipitation. Prolonged periods of warm and dry conditions coincident with blocking that persists for several weeks after ignition enabled growth of large wildfires, whereas the return of wetting precipitation generally within a week after ignition inhibited growth of smaller wildfires. These results suggest that daily weather data are a critical predictor of fire growth and large fire potential and encourage their use in fire management and modelling.

Additional keywords: boreal forest, fire danger indices.


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