International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Climate effects on historical fires (1630–1900) in Utah

Peter M. Brown A D , Emily K. Heyerdahl B , Stanley G. Kitchen C and Marc H. Weber B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research, 2901 Moore Lane, Ft Collins, CO 80526, USA.

B USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, 5775 US W Highway 10, Missoula, MT 59808, USA.

C USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Shrub Sciences Laboratory, 735 North 500 East, Provo, UT 84606, USA.

D Corresponding author. Email: pmb@rmtrr.org

International Journal of Wildland Fire 17(1) 28-39 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF07023
Submitted: 11 November 2006  Accepted: 10 August 2007   Published: 14 February 2008

Abstract

We inferred climate effects on fire occurrence from 1630 to 1900 for a new set of crossdated fire-scar chronologies from 18 forested sites in Utah and one site in eastern Nevada. Years with regionally synchronous fires (31 years with fire at ≥20% of sites) occurred during drier than average summers and years with no fires at any site (100 years) were wetter than average. Antecedent wet summers were associated with regional-fire years in mixed-conifer and ponderosa pine forest types, possibly by affecting fine fuel amount and continuity. NINO3 (an index of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, ENSO) was significantly low during regional-fire years (La Niñas) and significantly high during non-fire years (El Niños). NINO3 also was high during years before regional-fire years. Although regional fire years occurred nearly twice as often as expected when NINO3 and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation were both in their cool (negative) phases, this pattern was not statistically significant. Palmer Drought Severity Index was important for fire occurrence in ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests across the study area but ENSO forcing was seen only in south-eastern sites. Results support findings from previous fire and climate studies, including a possible geographic pivot point in Pacific basin teleconnections at ~40°N.

Additional keywords: crossdating, El Niño–Southern Oscillation, fire scars, Palmer Drought Severity Index, temperature.


Acknowledgements

For help with field collection and sample processing, we thank D. Bentley, J. Bentley, S. Carlson, B. Collins, K. Collins, G. Dean, C. Gentry, D. Hanley, J. Heyn, M. Holland, A. Kitchen, K. Hayes, C. Jones, G. Jorgensen, B. Latta, R. Laurie, K. Miller, H. Neeley, B. Newton, E. O’Neil, M. Proett, B. Pyne, M. Pyne, J. P. Riser II, G. Schenk, T. L. Swetnam, J. Taylor, T. Thygerson, H. Vice, C. Waley, B. Weaver, N. Williams, and R. Wu. For help with logistics, we thank E. Boshell, R. Campbell, L. Chappell, R. Cruz, K. Greenhalgh, G. Hall, S. Hatch, D. Owens, J. Pollet, C. Tucker, and L. Western. For comments on the paper we thank Tom Swetnam and two anonymous reviewers. The present work was funded by the Joint Fire Sciences Program, Fishlake National Forest, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Utah Bureau of Land Management, and Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research.


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