, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 114-128
Date: 04 Nov 2008

Interactions Among Wildland Fires in a Long-Established Sierra Nevada Natural Fire Area

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Abstract

We investigate interactions between successive naturally occurring fires, and assess to what extent the environments in which fires burn influence these interactions. Using mapped fire perimeters and satellite-based estimates of post-fire effects (referred to hereafter as fire severity) for 19 fires burning relatively freely over a 31-year period, we demonstrate that fire as a landscape process can exhibit self-limiting characteristics in an upper elevation Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forest. We use the term ‘self-limiting’ to refer to recurring fire as a process over time (that is, fire regime) consuming fuel and ultimately constraining the spatial extent and lessening fire-induced effects of subsequent fires. When the amount of time between successive adjacent fires is under 9 years, and when fire weather is not extreme (burning index <34.9), the probability of the latter fire burning into the previous fire area is extremely low. Analysis of fire severity data by 10-year periods revealed a fair degree of stability in the proportion of area burned among fire severity classes (unchanged, low, moderate, high). This is in contrast to a recent study demonstrating increasing high-severity burning throughout the Sierra Nevada from 1984 to 2006, which suggests freely burning fires over time in upper elevation Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forests can regulate fire-induced effects across the landscape. This information can help managers better anticipate short- and long-term effects of allowing naturally ignited fires to burn, and ultimately, improve their ability to implement Wildland Fire Use programs in similar forest types.

BC wrote paper, performed analysis; JM gathered/processed data, performed analysis, contributed to writing; AT gathered/processed data, conducted field research; MK contributed new methods for analysis; JvW performed analysis, conceived the study; SS designed study, contributed to writing.