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

The relationship of large fire occurrence with drought and fire danger indices in the western USA, 1984–2008: the role of temporal scale

Karin L. Riley A E , John T. Abatzoglou B , Isaac C. Grenfell C , Anna E. Klene D and Faith Ann Heinsch C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A University of Montana, Department of Geosciences, Missoula, MT 59812, USA.

B University of Idaho, Department of Geography, Moscow, ID 83844, USA.

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

D University of Montana, Department of Geography, Missoula, MT 59812, USA.

E Corresponding author. Email: kriley@fs.fed.us

International Journal of Wildland Fire 22(7) 894-909 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF12149
Submitted: 17 December 2012  Accepted: 7 March 2013   Published: 23 July 2013

Abstract

The relationship between large fire occurrence and drought has important implications for fire prediction under current and future climates. This study’s primary objective was to evaluate correlations between drought and fire-danger-rating indices representing short- and long-term drought, to determine which had the strongest relationships with large fire occurrence at the scale of the western United States during the years 1984–2008. We combined 4–8-km gridded drought and fire-danger-rating indices with information on fires greater than 404.7 ha (1000 acres). To account for differences in indices across climate and vegetation assemblages, indices were converted to percentile conditions for each pixel. Correlations between area burned and short-term indices Energy Release Component and monthly precipitation percentile were strong (R2 = 0.92 and 0.89), as were correlations between number of fires and these indices (R2 = 0.94 and 0.93). As the period of time tabulated by indices lengthened, correlations with fire occurrence weakened: Palmer Drought Severity Index and 24-month Standardised Precipitation Index percentile showed weak correlations with area burned (R2 = 0.25 and –0.01) and number of large fires (R2 = 0.3 and 0.01). These results indicate associations between short-term indices and moisture content of dead fuels, the primary carriers of surface fire.

Additional keywords: area burned, ERC, MTBS, number of fires, PDSI, precipitation, SPI.


References

Abatzoglou JT (2013) Development of gridded surface meteorological data for ecological applications and modelling. International Journal of Climatology 33, 121–131.
Development of gridded surface meteorological data for ecological applications and modelling.CrossRef |

Abatzoglou JT, Kolden CA (2011) Relative importance of weather and climate on wildfire growth in interior Alaska. International Journal of Wildland Fire 20, 479–486.
Relative importance of weather and climate on wildfire growth in interior Alaska.CrossRef |

Ager AA, Vaillant NM, Finney MA (2010) A comparison of landscape fuel treatment strategies to mitigate wildland fire risk in the urban interface and preserve old forest structure. Forest Ecology and Management 259, 1556–1570.
A comparison of landscape fuel treatment strategies to mitigate wildland fire risk in the urban interface and preserve old forest structure.CrossRef |

Alley WM (1984) The Palmer Drought Severity Index: limitations and assumptions. Journal of Climate and Applied Meteorology 23, 1100–1109.
The Palmer Drought Severity Index: limitations and assumptions.CrossRef |

Andrews PL, Bevins CD (2003) BehavePlus Fire modeling system, version 2: overview. In ‘Second International Wildland Fire Ecology and Fire Management Congress’, 16–20 November 2003, Orlando, FL. P5.11. (American Meteorological Society: Boston, MA) Available at https://ams.confex.com/ams/FIRE2003/techprogram/paper_65993.htm [Verified 28 June 2013]

Andrews PL, Loftsgaarden DO, Bradshaw LS (2003) Evaluation of fire danger rating indexes using logistic regression and percentile analysis. International Journal of Wildland Fire 12, 213–226.
Evaluation of fire danger rating indexes using logistic regression and percentile analysis.CrossRef |

Baisan CH, Swetnam TW (1990) Fire history on a desert mountain range: Rincon Mountain Wilderness, Arizona, USA. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 20, 1559–1569.
Fire history on a desert mountain range: Rincon Mountain Wilderness, Arizona, USA.CrossRef |

Balling RC, Meyer GA, Wells SG (1992) Relation of surface climate and burned area in Yellowstone National Park. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 60, 285–293.
Relation of surface climate and burned area in Yellowstone National Park.CrossRef |

Bradshaw LS, Deeming JE, Burgan RE, Cohen JD (1983) The 1978 National Fire-Danger Rating System: technical documentation. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, General Technical Report INT-169. (Ogden, UT)

Brown TJ, Abatzoglou JT (2010) The climate of the Big Blowup. In ‘Proceedings of the 3rd Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference’, 25–29 October 2010, Spokane, WA. pp. 1–7. (International Association of Wildland Fire, Birmingham, AL)

Brown TJ, Hall BL, Mohrle CR, Reinbold HJ (2002) Coarse assessment of federal wildland fire occurrence data. Report for the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Desert Research Institute, CEFA Report 02–04. (Reno, NV)

Calkin DE, Ager AA, Thompson MP, Finney MA, Lee DC, Quigley TM, McHugh CW, Riley KL, Gilbertson-Day JW (2011) A comparative risk assessment framework for wildland fire management: the 2010 Cohesive Strategy Science Report. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-262. (Fort Collins, CO)

Cohen JD, Deeming JE (1985) The National Fire Danger Rating System: basic equations. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, General Technical Report PSW-82. (Berkeley, CA)

Collins BM, Omi PN, Chapman PL (2006) Regional relationships between climate and wildfire-burned area in the Interior West, USA. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 36, 699–709.
Regional relationships between climate and wildfire-burned area in the Interior West, USA.CrossRef |

Dai A, Trenberth KE, Qian T (2004) A global dataset of Palmer Drought Severity Index for 1870–2002: relationship with soil moisture and effects of surface warming. Journal of Hydrometeorology 5, 1117–1130.
A global dataset of Palmer Drought Severity Index for 1870–2002: relationship with soil moisture and effects of surface warming.CrossRef |

Daly C, Neilson RP, Phillips DL (1994a) A statistical-topographic model for mapping climatological precipitation over mountainous terrain. Journal of Applied Meteorology 33, 140–158.
A statistical-topographic model for mapping climatological precipitation over mountainous terrain.CrossRef |

Daly C, Neilson RP, Phillips DL (1994b) A statistical-topographic model for mapping climatological precipitation over mountainous terrain. Journal of Applied Meteorology 33, 140–158.
A statistical-topographic model for mapping climatological precipitation over mountainous terrain.CrossRef |

Diaz HF, Swetnam TW The wildfires of 1910: climatology of an extreme early 20th century event and comparison with more recent extremes. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
The wildfires of 1910: climatology of an extreme early 20th century event and comparison with more recent extremes.CrossRef | in press

Eidenshink JC, Schwind B, Brewer K, Zhu Z-L, Quayle B, Howard S (2007) A project for monitoring trends in burn severity. Fire Ecology 3, 3–21.
A project for monitoring trends in burn severity.CrossRef |

Fernandes K, Baethgen W, Bernardes S, DeFries R, DeWitt DG, Goddard L, Lavado W, Dong E (2011) L, Padoch C, Pinedo-Vasquez M, Uriarte M (2011) North Tropical Atlantic influence on western Amazon fire season variability. Geophysical Research Letters 38, L12701
L, Padoch C, Pinedo-Vasquez M, Uriarte M (2011) North Tropical Atlantic influence on western Amazon fire season variability.CrossRef |

Finney MA, Grenfell IC, McHugh CW (2009) Modeling containment of large wildfires using generalized linear mixed-model analysis. Forest Science 55, 249–255.

Finney MA, Grenfell IC, McHugh CW, Seli RC, Trethewey D, Stratton RD, Brittain S (2011a) A method for ensemble wildland fire simulation. Environmental Modeling and Assessment 16, 153–167.
A method for ensemble wildland fire simulation.CrossRef |

Finney MA, McHugh CW, Grenfell IC, Riley KL, Short KC (2011b) A simulation of probabilistic wildfire risk components for the continental United States. Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment 25, 973–1000.
A simulation of probabilistic wildfire risk components for the continental United States.CrossRef |

Fosberg MA (1971) Climatological influences on moisture characteristics of dead fuel: theoretical analysis. Forest Science 17, 64–72.

Fosberg MA, Rothermel RC, Andrews PL (1981) Moisture content calculations for 1000-hour timelag fuels. Forest Science 27, 19–26.

Gedalof Z, Peterson DL, Mantua NJ (2005) Atmospheric, climatic, and ecological controls on extreme wildfire years in the Northwestern United States. Ecological Applications 15, 154–174.
Atmospheric, climatic, and ecological controls on extreme wildfire years in the Northwestern United States.CrossRef |

Guttman NB (1998) Comparing the Palmer Drought Index and the Standardized Precipitation Index. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 34, 113–121.
Comparing the Palmer Drought Index and the Standardized Precipitation Index.CrossRef |

Guttman NB, Wallis JR, Hosking JRM (1992) Spatial comparability of the Palmer Drought Severity Index. Water Resources Bulletin 28, 1111–1119.
Spatial comparability of the Palmer Drought Severity Index.CrossRef |

Henry AJ (1931) The calendar year as a time unit in drought statistics. Monthly Weather Review 59, 150–153.
The calendar year as a time unit in drought statistics.CrossRef |

Hessl AE, McKenzie D, Schellhaas R (2004) Drought and Pacific Decadal Oscillation linked to fire occurrence in the inland Pacific Northwest. Ecological Applications 14, 425–442.
Drought and Pacific Decadal Oscillation linked to fire occurrence in the inland Pacific Northwest.CrossRef |

Heyerdahl EK, Morgan P, Riser JP (2008a) Multi-season climate synchronized historical fires in dry forests (1650–1900), Northern Rockies, USA. Ecology 89, 705–716.
Multi-season climate synchronized historical fires in dry forests (1650–1900), Northern Rockies, USA.CrossRef | 18459334PubMed |

Heyerdahl EK, Morgan P, Riser JP (2008b) Multi-season synchronized historical fires in dry forests (1650–1900), Northern Rockies, USA. Ecology 89, 705–716.
Multi-season synchronized historical fires in dry forests (1650–1900), Northern Rockies, USA.CrossRef | 18459334PubMed |

Holden ZA, Crimmins MA, Cushman SA, Littell JS (2011) Empirical modeling of spatial and temporal variation in warm season nocturnal air temperatures in two North Idaho mountain ranges, USA. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 151, 261–269.
Empirical modeling of spatial and temporal variation in warm season nocturnal air temperatures in two North Idaho mountain ranges, USA.CrossRef |

Kangas RS, Brown TJ (2007) Characteristics of US drought and pluvials from a high-resolution spatial dataset. International Journal of Climatology 27, 1303–1325.
Characteristics of US drought and pluvials from a high-resolution spatial dataset.CrossRef |

Karl TR (1986) The sensitivity of the Palmer Drought Severity Index and Palmer’s Z-Index to their calibration coefficients including potential evapotranspiration. Journal of Climate and Applied Meteorology 25, 77–86.
The sensitivity of the Palmer Drought Severity Index and Palmer’s Z-Index to their calibration coefficients including potential evapotranspiration.CrossRef |

Lewis HT (1973) ‘Patterns of Indian Burning in California: Ecology and Ethnohistory’. (Ballena Press: Ramona, CA)

Littell JS, McKenzie D, Peterson DL, Westerling AL (2009) Climate and wildfire area burned in western U.S. ecoprovinces, 1916–2003. Ecological Applications 19, 1003–1021.
Climate and wildfire area burned in western U.S. ecoprovinces, 1916–2003.CrossRef | 19544740PubMed |

Lloyd-Hughes B, Saunders MA (2002) A drought climatology for Europe. International Journal of Climatology 22, 1571–1592.
A drought climatology for Europe.CrossRef |

McCabe G, Dettinger MD (1999) Decadal variations in the strength of ENSO teleconnections with precipitation in the Western United States. International Journal of Climatology 19, 1399–1410.
Decadal variations in the strength of ENSO teleconnections with precipitation in the Western United States.CrossRef |

McKee TB, Doesken NJ, Kleist J (1993) The relationship of drought frequency and duration to time scales. In ‘Preprints, 8th Conference on Applied Climatology’, 17–22 January 1993, Anaheim, CA. pp. 179–184. (American Meteorological Society: Boston, MA)

Miller JD, Skinner CN, Safford HD, Knapp EE, Ramirez CM (2012) Trends and causes of severity, size, and number of fires in northwestern California, USA. Ecological Applications 22, 184–203.
Trends and causes of severity, size, and number of fires in northwestern California, USA.CrossRef | 1:STN:280:DC%2BC38rhvVamtg%3D%3D&md5=8b06d0fdb457dc41205446b6875ce3ebCAS | 22471083PubMed |

Morgan P, Heyerdahl EK, Gibson CE (2008) Multi-season climate synchronized forest fires throughout the 20th century, Northern Rockies, USA. Ecology 89, 717–728.
Multi-season climate synchronized forest fires throughout the 20th century, Northern Rockies, USA.CrossRef | 18459335PubMed |

Omernik JM (1987) Ecoregions of the conterminous United States. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Association of American Geographers 77, 118–125.
Ecoregions of the conterminous United States.CrossRef |

Palmer WC (1965) Meteorological drought. US Department of Commerce, Research Paper number 45. (Washington, DC)

Preisler H, Westerling AL (2007) Statistical models for forecasting monthly large wildfire events in western United States. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 46, 1020–1030.
Statistical models for forecasting monthly large wildfire events in western United States.CrossRef |

Preisler H, Burgan RE, Eidenshink JC, Klaver JM, Klaver RW (2009) Forecasting distributions of large federal-lands fires utilizing satellite and gridded weather information. International Journal of Wildland Fire 18, 508–516.
Forecasting distributions of large federal-lands fires utilizing satellite and gridded weather information.CrossRef |

Ropelewski CF, Halpert MS (1986) North American precipitation and temperature patterns associated with the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Monthly Weather Review 114, 2352–2362.
North American precipitation and temperature patterns associated with the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO).CrossRef |

Rothermel RC (1972) A mathematical model for predicting fire spread in wildland fuels. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Research Paper INT-115. (Ogden, UT)

Schlobohm P, Brain J (2002) Gaining an understanding of the National Fire Danger Rating System. National Wildfire Coordinating Group, PMS 932, NFES 2665. Available at http://www.nwcg.gov/var/products/gaining-an-understanding-of-the-national-fire/at_download/file [Verified 28 June 2013]

Schmidt KM, Menakis JP, Hardy CC, Hann WJ, Bunnell DL (2002) Development of coarse-scale spatial data for wildland fire and fuel management. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, General Technical Report GTR-RMRS-87. (Fort Collins, CO)

Scott JH, Burgan RE (2005) Standard fire behavior fuel models: a comprehensive set for use with Rothermel’s surface fire spread model. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-153. (Fort Collins, CO)

Sellers WD (1965) ‘Physical Climatology.’ (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, IL)

Sheffield J, Wood EF, Roderick ML (2012) Little change in global drought over the past 60 years. Nature 491,
Little change in global drought over the past 60 years.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BC38Xhs1OgtL3N&md5=5392d325fe9e78a6fb20e4319cd5d09fCAS | 23151587PubMed |

Strauss D, Bednar L, Mees R (1989) Do one percent of forest fires cause ninety-nine percent of the damage? Forest Science 35, 319–328.

Swetnam TW, Betancourt JL (1998) Mesoscale disturbance and ecological response to decadal climate variability in the American Southwest. Journal of Climate 11, 3128–3147.
Mesoscale disturbance and ecological response to decadal climate variability in the American Southwest.CrossRef |

Thornthwaite CW (1948) An approach toward a rational classification of climate. Geographical Review 38, 55–94.
An approach toward a rational classification of climate.CrossRef |

Thornthwaite CW (1953) Topoclimatology. In ‘Proceedings of Toronto Meteorological Conference’, 9–15 September 1953, Toronto, ON. pp. 227–232. (American Meteorological Society: Boston, MA; and Royal Meteorological Society: London)

Thornton PE, Thornton MM, Mayer BW, Wilhelmi N, Wei Y, Cook RB (2012) Daily surface weather on a 1 km grid for North America. Oak Ridge National Laboratory Distributed Active Archive Center. (Oak Ridge, TN) Available at http:/daymet.ornl.gov/ [Verified 4 May 2013]

Trouet V, Taylor AH, Carleton AM, Skinner CN (2009) Interannual variations in fire weather, fire extent, and synoptic-scale circulation patterns in northern California and Oregon. Theoretical and Applied Climatology 95, 349–360.
Interannual variations in fire weather, fire extent, and synoptic-scale circulation patterns in northern California and Oregon.CrossRef |

Van Wagner CE (1977) Conditions for the start and spread of crown fire. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 7, 23–34.
Conditions for the start and spread of crown fire.CrossRef |

Westerling AL, Gershunov A, Cayan DR, Barnett TP (2002) Long lead statistical forecasting of area burned in western US wildfires by ecosystem province. International Journal of Wildland Fire 11, 257–266.
Long lead statistical forecasting of area burned in western US wildfires by ecosystem province.CrossRef |

Westerling AL, Gershunov A, Brown TJ, Cayan DR, Dettinger MD (2003) Climate and wildfire in the western United States. American Meteorological Society 84, 595–604.
Climate and wildfire in the western United States.CrossRef |



Export Citation Cited By (34)