Climate and very large wildland fires in the contiguous western USA

TitleClimate and very large wildland fires in the contiguous western USA
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsStavros, NE, Abatzoglou, J, larkin, NK, McKenzie, D, Steel, AE
JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
Start Page899
Date Published08/2014
KeywordsAUC, GACC, logistic regression, niche space, precision, rare events, recall, technical reports and journal articles, wildland fire

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.