Determining fuel moisture thresholds to assess wildfire hazard: A contribution to an operational early warning system.
ABSTRACT: Fuel moisture content (FMC) is an important fuel property for assessing wildfire hazard, since it influences fuel flammability and fire behavior. The relationship between FMC and fire activity differs among land covers and seems to be a property of each ecosystem. Our objectives were to analyze pre-fire FMC among different land covers and to propose a wildfire hazard classification for the Sierras Chicas in the Chaco Serrano subregion (Argentina), by analyzing pre-fire FMC distributions observed for grasslands, shrublands and forests and using percentiles to establish thresholds. For this purpose, we used a fire database derived from Landsat imagery (30 m) and derived FMC maps every 8 days from 2002 to 2016 using MODIS reflectance products and empirical equations of FMC. Our results indicated that higher FMC constrains the extent of wildfires, whereas at lower FMC there are other factors affecting their size. Extreme and high fire hazard thresholds for grasslands were established at FMC of 55% and 67% respectively, at 72% and 105% for forests and at 106% and 121% for shrublands. Our FMC thresholds were sensitive to detect extreme fire hazard conditions during years with high fire activity in comparison to average conditions. The differences in the distributions of pre-fire FMC among land covers and between ecosystems highlighted the need to locally determine land cover-specific FMC thresholds to assess wildfire hazard. Our wildfire hazard classification applied to FMC maps in an operational framework will contribute to improving early warning systems in the Sierras Chicas. However, moisture alone is not sufficient to represent true fire hazard in Chaco forests and the combination with other variables would provide better hazard assessments. These operational wildfire hazard maps will help to better allocation of fire protective resources to minimize negative impact on people, property and ecosystems. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study analyzing pre-fire FMC over several fire seasons in a non-Mediterranean ecosystem, aiming at assessing wildfire hazard.
Project description:It is generally accepted that year-to-year variability in moisture conditions and drought are linked with increased wildfire occurrence. However, quantifying the sensitivity of wildfire to surface moisture state at seasonal lead-times has been challenging due to the absence of a long soil moisture record with the appropriate coverage and spatial resolution for continental-scale analysis. Here we apply model simulations of surface soil moisture that numerically assimilate observations from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission with the US Forest Service's historical Fire-Occurrence Database over the contiguous United States. We quantify the relationships between pre-fire-season soil moisture and subsequent-year wildfire occurrence by land-cover type and produce annual probable wildfire occurrence and burned area maps at 0.25-degree resolution. Cross-validated results generally indicate a higher occurrence of smaller fires when months preceding fire season are wet, while larger fires are more frequent when soils are dry. This result is consistent with the concept of increased fuel accumulation under wet conditions in the pre-season. These results demonstrate the fundamental strength of the relationship between soil moisture and fire activity at long lead-times and are indicative of that relationship's utility for the future development of national-scale predictive capability.
Project description:We characterized wildfire transmission and exposure within a matrix of large land tenures (federal, state, and private) surrounding 56 communities within a 3.3 million ha fire prone region of central Oregon US. Wildfire simulation and network analysis were used to quantify the exchange of fire among land tenures and communities and analyze the relative contributions of human versus natural ignitions to wildfire exposure. Among the land tenures examined, the area burned by incoming fires averaged 57% of the total burned area. Community exposure from incoming fires ignited on surrounding land tenures accounted for 67% of the total area burned. The number of land tenures contributing wildfire to individual communities and surrounding wildland urban interface (WUI) varied from 3 to 20. Community firesheds, i.e. the area where ignitions can spawn fires that can burn into the WUI, covered 40% of the landscape, and were 5.5 times larger than the combined area of the community core and WUI. For the major land tenures within the study area, the amount of incoming versus outgoing fire was relatively constant, with some exceptions. The study provides a multi-scale characterization of wildfire networks within a large, mixed tenure and fire prone landscape, and illustrates the connectivity of risk between communities and the surrounding wildlands. We use the findings to discuss how scale mismatches in local wildfire governance result from disconnected planning systems and disparate fire management objectives among the large landowners (federal, state, private) and local communities. Local and regional risk planning processes can adopt our concepts and methods to better define and map the scale of wildfire risk from large fire events and incorporate wildfire network and connectivity concepts into risk assessments.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Forest fuel treatments have been proposed as tools to stabilize carbon stocks in fire-prone forests in the Western U.S.A. Although fuel treatments such as thinning and burning are known to immediately reduce forest carbon stocks, there are suggestions that these losses may be paid back over the long-term if treatments sufficiently reduce future wildfire severity, or prevent deforestation. Although fire severity and post-fire tree regeneration have been indicated as important influences on long-term carbon dynamics, it remains unclear how natural variability in these processes might affect the ability of fuel treatments to protect forest carbon resources. We surveyed a wildfire where fuel treatments were put in place before fire and estimated the short-term impact of treatment and wildfire on aboveground carbon stocks at our study site. We then used a common vegetation growth simulator in conjunction with sensitivity analysis techniques to assess how predicted timescales of carbon recovery after fire are sensitive to variation in rates of fire-related tree mortality, and post-fire tree regeneration. RESULTS:We found that fuel reduction treatments were successful at ameliorating fire severity at our study site by removing an estimated 36% of aboveground biomass. Treated and untreated stands stored similar amounts of carbon three years after wildfire, but differences in fire severity were such that untreated stands maintained only 7% of aboveground carbon as live trees, versus 51% in treated stands. Over the long-term, our simulations suggest that treated stands in our study area will recover baseline carbon storage 10-35?years more quickly than untreated stands. Our sensitivity analysis found that rates of fire-related tree mortality strongly influence estimates of post-fire carbon recovery. Rates of regeneration were less influential on recovery timing, except when fire severity was high. CONCLUSIONS:Our ability to predict the response of forest carbon resources to anthropogenic and natural disturbances requires models that incorporate uncertainty in processes important to long-term forest carbon dynamics. To the extent that fuel treatments are able to ameliorate tree mortality rates or prevent deforestation resulting from wildfire, our results suggest that treatments may be a viable strategy to stabilize existing forest carbon stocks.
Project description:The Southern Annular Mode (SAM) is the main driver of climate variability at mid to high latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, affecting wildfire activity, which in turn pollutes the air and contributes to human health problems and mortality, and potentially provides strong feedback to the climate system through emissions and land cover changes. Here we report the largest Southern Hemisphere network of annually resolved tree ring fire histories, consisting of 1,767 fire-scarred trees from 97 sites (from 22 °S to 54 °S) in southern South America (SAS), to quantify the coupling of SAM and regional wildfire variability using recently created multicentury proxy indices of SAM for the years 1531-2010 AD. We show that at interannual time scales, as well as at multidecadal time scales across 37-54 °S, latitudinal gradient elevated wildfire activity is synchronous with positive phases of the SAM over the years 1665-1995. Positive phases of the SAM are associated primarily with warm conditions in these biomass-rich forests, in which widespread fire activity depends on fuel desiccation. Climate modeling studies indicate that greenhouse gases will force SAM into its positive phase even if stratospheric ozone returns to normal levels, so that climate conditions conducive to widespread fire activity in SAS will continue throughout the 21st century.
Project description:The relative importance of fuel, topography, and weather on fire spread varies at different spatial scales, but how the relative importance of these controls respond to changing spatial scales is poorly understood. We designed a "moving window" resampling technique that allowed us to quantify the relative importance of controls on fire spread at continuous spatial scales using boosted regression trees methods. This quantification allowed us to identify the threshold value for fire size at which the dominant control switches from fuel at small sizes to weather at large sizes. Topography had a fluctuating effect on fire spread across the spatial scales, explaining 20-30% of relative importance. With increasing fire size, the dominant control switched from bottom-up controls (fuel and topography) to top-down controls (weather). Our analysis suggested that there is a threshold for fire size, above which fires are driven primarily by weather and more likely lead to larger fire size. We suggest that this threshold, which may be ecosystem-specific, can be identified using our "moving window" resampling technique. Although the threshold derived from this analytical method may rely heavily on the sampling technique, our study introduced an easily implemented approach to identify scale thresholds in wildfire regimes.
Project description:Background:Globally, and in the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa, extreme fires have become more common in recent years. Such fires pose societal and ecological threats and have inter alia been attributed to climate change and modification of fuels due to alien plant invasions. Understanding the flammability of different types of indigenous and invasive alien vegetation is essential to develop fire risk prevention and mitigation strategies. We assessed the flammability of 30 species of indigenous and invasive alien plants commonly occurring in coastal fynbos and thicket shrublands in relation to varying fire weather conditions. Methods:Fresh plant shoots were sampled and burnt experimentally across diverse fire weather conditions to measure flammability in relation to fire weather conditions, live fuel moisture, fuel load and vegetation grouping (fynbos, thicket and invasive alien plants). Flammability measures considered were: burn intensity, completeness of burn, time-to-ignition, and the likelihood of spontaneous ignition. We also investigated whether the drying of plant shoots (simulating drought conditions) differentially affected the flammability of vegetation groups. Results:Fire weather conditions enhanced all measures of flammability, whereas live fuel moisture reduced burn intensity and completeness of burn. Live fuel moisture was not significantly correlated with fire weather, suggesting that the mechanism through which fire weather enhances flammability is not live fuel moisture. It furthermore implies that the importance of live fuel moisture for flammability of evergreen shrublands rests on inter-specific and inter-vegetation type differences in fuel moisture, rather than short-term intra-specific fluctuation in live fuel moisture in response to weather conditions. Fuel load significantly increased burn intensity, while reducing ignitability. Although fire weather, live fuel moisture, and fuel load had significant effects on flammability measures, vegetation and species differences accounted for most of the variation. Flammability was generally highest in invasive alien plants, intermediate in fynbos, and lowest in thicket. Fynbos ignited rapidly and burnt completely, whereas thicket was slow to ignite and burnt incompletely. Invasive alien plants were slow to ignite, but burnt with the highest intensity, potentially due to volatile organic composition. The drying of samples resulted in increases in all measures of flammability that were comparable among vegetation groups. Flammability, and by implication fire risk, should thus not increase disproportionately in one vegetation group compared to another under drought conditions-unless the production of dead fuels is disproportionate among vegetation groups. Thus, we suggest that the dead:live fuel ratio is a potentially useful indicator of flammability of evergreen shrublands and that proxies for this ratio need to be investigated for incorporation into fire danger indices.
Project description:Fire activity in North American forests is expected to increase substantially with climate change. This would represent a growing risk to human settlements and industrial infrastructure proximal to forests, and to the forest products industry. We modelled fire size distributions in southern Québec as functions of fire weather and land cover, thus explicitly integrating some of the biotic interactions and feedbacks in a forest-wildfire system. We found that, contrary to expectations, land-cover and not fire weather was the primary driver of fire size in our study region. Fires were highly selective on fuel-type under a wide range of fire weather conditions: specifically, deciduous forest, lakes and to a lesser extent recently burned areas decreased the expected fire size in their vicinity compared to conifer forest. This has large implications for fire risk management in that fuels management could reduce fire risk over the long term. Our results imply, for example, that if 30% of a conifer-dominated landscape were converted to hardwoods, the probability of a given fire, occurring in that landscape under mean fire weather conditions, exceeding 100,000 ha would be reduced by a factor of 21. A similarly marked but slightly smaller effect size would be expected under extreme fire weather conditions. We attribute the decrease in expected fire size that occurs in recently burned areas to fuel availability limitations on fires spread. Because regenerating burned conifer stands often pass through a deciduous stage, this would also act as a negative biotic feedback whereby the occurrence of fires limits the size of nearby future for some period of time. Our parameter estimates imply that changes in vegetation flammability or fuel availability after fires would tend to counteract shifts in the fire size distribution favoring larger fires that are expected under climate warming. Ecological forecasts from models neglecting these feedbacks may markedly overestimate the consequences of climate warming on fire activity, and could be misleading. Assessments of vulnerability to climate change, and subsequent adaptation strategies, are directly dependent on integrated ecological forecasts. Thus, we stress the need to explicitly incorporate land-cover's direct effects and feedbacks in simulation models of coupled climate-fire-fuels systems.
Project description:Interannual climate variations have been important drivers of wildfire occurrence in ponderosa pine forests across western North America for at least 400 years, but at finer scales of mountain ranges and landscapes human land uses sometimes over-rode climate influences. We reconstruct and analyse effects of high human population densities in forests of the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico from ca 1300 CE to Present. Prior to the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, human land uses reduced the occurrence of widespread fires while simultaneously adding more ignitions resulting in many small-extent fires. During the 18th and 19th centuries, wet/dry oscillations and their effects on fuels dynamics controlled widespread fire occurrence. In the late 19th century, intensive livestock grazing disrupted fuels continuity and fire spread and then active fire suppression maintained the absence of widespread surface fires during most of the 20th century. The abundance and continuity of fuels is the most important controlling variable in fire regimes of these semi-arid forests. Reduction of widespread fires owing to reduction of fuel continuity emerges as a hallmark of extensive human impacts on past forests and fire regimes.This article is part of the themed issue 'The interaction of fire and mankind'.
Project description:Spotting is thought to increase wildfire rate of spread (ROS) and in some cases become the main mechanism for spread. The role of spotting in wildfire spread is controlled by many factors including fire intensity, number of and distance between spot fires, weather, fuel characteristics and topography. Through a set of 30 laboratory fire experiments on a 3 m x 4 m fuel bed, subject to air flow, we explored the influence of manually ignited spot fires (0, 1 or 2), the presence or absence of a model hill and their interaction on combined fire ROS (i.e. ROS incorporating main fire and merged spot fires). During experiments conducted on a flat fuel bed, spot fires (whether 1 or 2) had only a small influence on combined ROS. Slowest combined ROS was recorded when a hill was present and no spot fires were ignited, because the fires crept very slowly downslope and downwind of the hill. This was up to, depending on measurement interval, 5 times slower than ROS in the flat fuel bed experiments. However, ignition of 1 or 2 spot fires (with hill present) greatly increased combined ROS to similar levels as those recorded in the flat fuel bed experiments (depending on spread interval). The effect was strongest on the head fire, where spot fires merged directly with the main fire, but significant increases in off-centre ROS were also detected. Our findings suggest that under certain topographic conditions, spot fires can allow a fire to overcome the low spread potential of downslopes. Current models may underestimate wildfire ROS and fire arrival time in hilly terrain if the influence of spot fires on ROS is not incorporated into predictions.
Project description:Wildfires can destroy property and vegetation, thereby threatening people's livelihoods and food security. Soil moisture and biomass are important determinants of wildfire hazard. Corresponding novel satellite-based observations therefore present an opportunity to better understand these disasters globally and across different climate regions. We sampled 9,840 large wildfire events from around the globe, between 2001 and 2018, along with respective surface soil moisture and biomass data. Using composites across fire events in similar climate regions, we show contrasting soil moisture anomalies in space and time preceding large wildfires. In arid regions, wetter-than-average soils facilitate sufficient biomass growth required to fuel large fires. In contrast, in humid regions, fires are typically preceded by dry soil moisture anomalies, which create suitable ignition conditions and flammability in an otherwise too wet environment. In both regions, soil moisture anomalies continuously decrease in the months prior to fire occurrence, often from above-normal to below-normal. These signals are most pronounced in sparsely populated areas with low human influence, and for larger fires. Resolving natural soil moisture-fire interactions supports fire modelling and facilitates improved fire predictions and early warning.