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

Climate and very large wildland fires in the contiguous western USA

E. Natasha Stavros A D , John Abatzoglou B , Narasimhan K. Larkin C , Donald McKenzie C and E. Ashley Steel C

A Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, MS 233-300, Pasadena, CA 91109-8099, USA.

B Department of Geography, University of Idaho, 875 Perimeter Drive, MS3021, Moscow, ID 83844, USA.

C Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory, US Forest Service, 400 N 34th Street, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98103, USA.

D Corresponding author. Email: natasha.stavros@jpl.nasa.gov

International Journal of Wildland Fire 23(7) 899-914 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF13169
Submitted: 3 October 2013  Accepted: 18 May 2014   Published: 25 August 2014

Abstract

Very large wildfires can cause significant economic and environmental damage, including destruction of homes, adverse air quality, firefighting costs and even loss of life. We examine how climate is associated with very large wildland fires (VLWFs ≥50 000 acres, or ~20 234 ha) in the western contiguous USA. We used composite records of climate and fire to investigate the spatial and temporal variability of VLWF–climatic relationships. Results showed quantifiable fire weather leading up and up to 3 weeks post VLWF discovery, thus providing predictors of the probability that VLWF occurrence in a given week. Models were created for eight National Interagency Fire Center Geographic Area Coordination Centers (GACCs). Accuracy was good (AUC > 0.80) for all models, but significant fire weather predictors of VLWFs vary by GACC, suggesting that broad-scale ecological mechanisms associated with wildfires also vary across regions. These mechanisms are very similar to those found by previous analyses of annual area burned, but this analysis provides a means for anticipating VLWFs specifically and thereby the timing of substantial area burned within a given year, thus providing a quantifiable justification for proactive fire management practices to mitigate the risk and associated damage of VLWFs.

Additional keywords: AUC, GACC, logistic regression, niche space, precision, rare events, recall, wildland fire.


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