Factors influencing fire severity under moderate burning conditions in the Klamath Mountains, northern California, USA

TitleFactors influencing fire severity under moderate burning conditions in the Klamath Mountains, northern California, USA
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsEstes, BL
Secondary AuthorsKnapp, EE
Tertiary AuthorsSkinner, CN
Subsidiary AuthorsMiller, JD, Preisler, HK
Start Pagee01794
Keywordsfire effects and fire ecology, technical reports and journal articles

Topography, weather, and fuels are known factors driving fire behavior, but the degree to which each contributes to the spatial pattern of fire severity under different conditions remains poorly understood. The variability in severity within the boundaries of the 2006 wildfires that burned in the Klamath Mountains, northern California, along with data on burn conditions and new analytical tools, presented an opportunity to evaluate factors influencing fire severity under burning conditions representative of those where management of wildfire for resource benefit is most likely. Fire severity was estimated as the percent change in canopy cover (0–100%) classified from the Relativized differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (RdNBR), and spatial data layers were compiled to determine strength of associations with topography, weather, and variables directly or indirectly linked to fuels, such as vegetation type, number of previous fires, and time since last fire. Detailed fire progressions were used to estimate weather (e.g., temperature, relative humidity, temperature inversions, and solar radiation) at the time of burning. A generalized additive regression model with random effects and an additional spatial term to account for autocorrelation between adjacent locations was fitted to fire severity. In this fire year characterized by the relative absence of extreme fire weather, topographical complexity most strongly influenced severity. Upper- and mid-slopes tended to burn at higher fire severity than lower-slopes. East- and southeast-facing aspects tended to burn at higher severity than other aspects. Vegetation type and fire history were also important predictors of fire severity. Shrub vegetation was more likely to burn at higher severity than mixed hardwood/conifer or hardwood vegetation. As expected, fire severity was positively associated with time since previous fire, but the relationship was non-linear. Of the weather variables analyzed, temperature inversions, common in the complex topography of the Klamath Mountains, showed the strongest association with fire severity. Inversions trapped smoke and had a dampening effect on severity within the landscape underneath the inversion. Understanding the spatial controls on mixed-severity fires allows managers to better plan for future wildfires and aide in the decision making when managing lightning ignitions for resource benefit might be appropriate.