International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

Estimation of wildfire size and risk changes due to fuels treatments

M. A. Cochrane A F , C. J. Moran A , M. C. Wimberly A , A. D. Baer A , M. A. Finney B , K. L. Beckendorf C , J. Eidenshink D and Z. Zhu E

A Geographic Information Science, Center of Excellence, South Dakota State University, Brookings, South Dakota 57007, USA.

B USDA Forest Service, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, PO Box 8089, Missoula, MT 59808, USA.

C Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), Research and Technology Solutions, US Geological Survey Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS), 47914 252nd Street, Sioux Falls, SD 57198, USA.

D US Geological Survey, Center for Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS), 47914 252nd Street, Sioux Falls, SD 57198, USA.

E US Geological Survey, 12708 Roark Court, Reston, Reston, VA 20192, USA.

F Corresponding author. Email: mark.cochrane@sdstate.edu

International Journal of Wildland Fire 21(4) 357-367 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF11079
Submitted: 14 June 2011  Accepted: 26 October 2011   Published: 9 March 2012

Abstract

Human land use practices, altered climates, and shifting forest and fire management policies have increased the frequency of large wildfires several-fold. Mitigation of potential fire behaviour and fire severity have increasingly been attempted through pre-fire alteration of wildland fuels using mechanical treatments and prescribed fires. Despite annual treatment of more than a million hectares of land, quantitative assessments of the effectiveness of existing fuel treatments at reducing the size of actual wildfires or how they might alter the risk of burning across landscapes are currently lacking. Here, we present a method for estimating spatial probabilities of burning as a function of extant fuels treatments for any wildland fire-affected landscape. We examined the landscape effects of more than 72 000 ha of wildland fuel treatments involved in 14 large wildfires that burned 314 000 ha of forests in nine US states between 2002 and 2010. Fuels treatments altered the probability of fire occurrence both positively and negatively across landscapes, effectively redistributing fire risk by changing surface fire spread rates and reducing the likelihood of crowning behaviour. Trade offs are created between formation of large areas with low probabilities of increased burning and smaller, well-defined regions with reduced fire risk.

Additional keywords: FARSITE, fire behaviour, fire extent, fire management, fire modelling, fire risk, fire spread.


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