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Strategically-placed Fuel Treatments Contributes to Resilient Landscapes

Photo of Burn damage after the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire in Washington State. The Carlton Complex is one of several large wildfires being studied to determine how fuel treatment programs and past wildfires affect the spread and severity of wildfires.Burn damage after the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire in Washington State. The Carlton Complex is one of several large wildfires being studied to determine how fuel treatment programs and past wildfires affect the spread and severity of wildfires.Snapshot : The 2014 Carlton Complex in north-central Washington was a “megafire.” It burned 167,000 acres within 24 hours, driven by strong warm winds through a drought-ridden landscape. By examining burn severity within the footprints of past fuel reduction treatments and prior wildfires, USDA Forest Service scientists are identifying how strategic placement of fuel treatments in fire-prone landscapes may contribute to resilient landscapes.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Peterson, David W.Hessburg, Paul F.
Povak, Nicholas 
Research Station : Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW)
Year : 2019
Highlight ID : 1541

Summary

Megafires are exceptionally large wildland fires that burn more than 100,000 acres. They are driven by hot, dry, windy conditions. In recent years, they have become more common, and some have questioned whether prior fuel-reduction treatments make a difference when extreme fire weather conditions are fanning an uncontrollable wildfire. USDA Forest Service scientists with the agency's Pacific Northwest Research Station and their colleagues are conducting a series of studies examining how past wildfire and fuel reduction treatments influenced fire severity during the 2014 Carlton Complex, a megafire in north-central Washington. They designed these studies to inform implementation of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. Key findings to date provide useful information to land managers wanting to prioritize the type and strategic placement of fuel treatments to optimize their effectiveness in dry forest management: (1) Burn severity was significantly lower within the footprint of past fuel treatments than in untreated forest. (2) Fuel reduction treatments that combined mechanical thinning from below with post-harvest broadcast burns were particularly effective. (3) Placement of fuel-reduction treatments mattered. Burn severity was significantly lower in fuel treatments positioned on leeward slopes that are sheltered from wind and typically drier and warmer than windward slopes.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center