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International Journal of Wildland Fire
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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 18(2)

Effectiveness of prescribed fire as a fuel treatment in Californian coniferous forests

Nicole M. Vaillant A B C, Jo Ann Fites-Kaufman B, Scott L. Stephens A

A Division of Ecosystem Science, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, 137 Mulford Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3114, USA.
B USDA Forest Service, Adaptive Management Services Enterprise Team, 631 Coyote Street, Nevada City, CA 95959, USA.
C Corresponding author. Email: nvaillant@fs.fed.us
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Effective fire suppression and land use practices over the last century have altered forest structure and increased fuel loads in many forests in the United States, increasing the occurrence of catastrophic wildland fires. The most effective methods to change potential fire behavior are to reduce surface fuels, increase the canopy base height and reduce canopy bulk density. This multi-tiered approach breaks up the continuity of surface, ladder and crown fuels. Effectiveness of fuel treatments is often shown indirectly through fire behavior modeling or directly through monitoring wildland fire effects such as tree mortality. The present study investigates how prescribed fire affected fuel loads, forest structure, potential fire behavior, and modeled tree mortality at 90th and 97.5th percentile fire weather conditions on eight National Forests in California. Prescription burning did not significantly change forest structure at most sites. Total fuel loads (litter, duff, 1, 10, 100, and 1000-h) were reduced by 23 to 78% across the sites. The reduction in fuel loads altered potential fire behavior by reducing fireline intensity and increasing torching index and crowning index at most sites. Predicted tree mortality decreased after treatment as an effect of reduced potential fire behavior and fuel loads. To use limited fuel hazard reduction resources efficiently, more effort could be placed on the evaluation of existing fire hazards because several stands in the present study had little potential for adverse fire effects before prescribed fire was applied.

Keywords: fire behavior modeling, fire hazard, fire risk, Fuels Management Analyst, wildfire.

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