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

Climate drivers of regionally synchronous fires in the inland Northwest (1651–1900)

Emily K. Heyerdahl A G , Donald McKenzie B , Lori D. Daniels C , Amy E. Hessl D , Jeremy S. Littell E and Nathan J. Mantua F
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A UDSA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, 5775 US West Highway 10, Missoula, MT 59808, USA.

B UDSA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, 400 N 34th Street, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98103, USA.

C University of British Columbia, Department of Geography, 1984 West Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada.

D West Virginia University, Department of Geology and Geography, Box 6300, Morgantown, WV 26506, USA.

E University of Washington, College of Forest Resources, Box 352100, Seattle WA 98195-2100, USA.

F University of Washington, Climate Impacts Group, Box 354235, Seattle, WA 98195-4235, USA.

G Corresponding author. Email: eheyerdahl@fs.fed.us

International Journal of Wildland Fire 17(1) 40-49 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF07024
Submitted: 11 November 2006  Accepted: 10 August 2007   Published: 15 February 2008

Abstract

We inferred climate drivers of regionally synchronous surface fires from 1651 to 1900 at 15 sites with existing annually accurate fire-scar chronologies from forests dominated by ponderosa pine or Douglas-fir in the inland Northwest (interior Oregon, Washington and southern British Columbia). Years with widespread fires (35 years with fire at 7 to 11 sites) had warm spring–summers and warm-dry summers, whereas years with no fires at any site (18 years) had the opposite conditions. Spring climate likely affected the length of the fire season via the effects of snowmelt on soil and fuel moisture, whereas summer climate influenced fuel moisture during the fire season. Climate in prior years was not a significant driver of regionally synchronous surface fires, likely because fuels were generally sufficient for the ignition and spread of such fires in these forests. Fires occurred significantly more often than expected by chance when the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) were both warm phase and less often when they were both cool phase. Interactions between large-scale climate patterns influenced fire synchrony in the inland Northwest because phases of ENSO and PDO were associated with changes in the frequency of warm-dry v. cool-wet spring–summer climate.

Additional keywords: British Columbia, El Niño–Southern Oscillation, fire scars, Oregon, Pacific Decadal Oscillation, Palmer Drought Severity Index, temperature, Washington.


Acknowledgements

We thank Rudy King for guidance on the statistical analysis. We thank Clint Wright for providing fire dates from his Teanaway site. We thank our many colleagues for their help in generating the fire-history chronologies we used in the present analysis. We thank the Helen Riaboff Whiteley Center of the University of Washington for providing the retreat where we began this analysis. We thank Penny Morgan, Tom Swetnam, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript.


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