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Individual Highlight

Quantifying the Ability of Wildfire to Act as a Fuel Break

Photo of Wildfires that burned in 1985 and 2000 are shown in red. In 2003, another wildfire burned (shown as a black line) and interacted with both previous wildfires. The 1985 wildfire does not appear to act as a fuel break and limit the size of the 2003 wildfire. The 2000 wildfire does appear to act as a fuel break and limit the size of the 2003 wildfire. Sean Parks, USDA Forest ServiceWildfires that burned in 1985 and 2000 are shown in red. In 2003, another wildfire burned (shown as a black line) and interacted with both previous wildfires. The 1985 wildfire does not appear to act as a fuel break and limit the size of the 2003 wildfire. The 2000 wildfire does appear to act as a fuel break and limit the size of the 2003 wildfire. Sean Parks, USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Forest Service scientists conducted a study using fire history atlases, fire progression maps, and weather station data to quantify the ability of wildfire to act as a fuel break. The results of this study provide an improved understanding of feedbacks between previous and subsequent wildfire under varying weather conditions. It will be useful to fire managers who seek to restore natural fire regimes or want to exploit recent burns when managing fire.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Parks, Sean A.  
Research Location : Missoula, MT
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 690

Summary

Forest Service scientists with the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute quantified the ability of wildfire to limit the spread of subsequent fires and essentially, act as a fuel break. They also evaluated the influence of daily weather in diminishing this effect. The scientists found that wildfires act as fuel breaks in all of four study areas they evaluated, but this effect decays over time. Wildfires no longer act as fuel breaks after six years in the southwestern U.S. and after approximately 16 years in the central and northern Rocky Mountains. They also found that the ability of fire to act as a fuel break was substantially reduced under extreme compared to moderate weather conditions in all four study areas. These results provide an improved understanding of the relationship between previous and subsequent wildfire under varying weather conditions, and as such, will help fire managers evaluate whether a previous wildfire will act as a fuel break based on its age, ecosystem type, and expected weather. With knowledge of the conditions under which fire spread is limited by previous wildfire, managers can more confidently and flexibly manage fire in a manner in which resilient landscapes can be better realized.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Cara Nelson, University of Montana

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