Post-fire vegetation and fuel development influences fire severity patterns in reburns

TitlePost-fire vegetation and fuel development influences fire severity patterns in reburns
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsCoppoletta, M
Secondary AuthorsMerriam, KE
Tertiary AuthorsCollins, BM
JournalEcological Applications
Start Page686
Keywordsfire effects and fire ecology, technical reports and journal articles

In areas where fire regimes and forest structure have been dramatically altered, there is increasing concern that contemporary fires have the potential to set forests on a positive feedback trajectory with successive reburns, one in which extensive stand-replacing fire could promote more stand-replacing fire. Our study utilized an extensive set of field plots established following four fires that occurred between 2000 and 2010 in the northern Sierra Nevada, California, USA that were subsequently reburned in 2012. The information obtained from these field plots allowed for a unique set of analyses investigating the effect of vegetation, fuels, topography, fire weather, and forest management on reburn severity. We also examined the influence of initial fire severity and time since initial fire on influential predictors of reburn severity. Our results suggest that high- to moderate-severity fire in the initial fires led to an increase in standing snags and shrub vegetation, which in combination with severe fire weather promoted high-severity fire effects in the subsequent reburn. Although fire behavior is largely driven by weather, our study demonstrates that post-fire vegetation composition and structure are also important drivers of reburn severity. In the face of changing climatic regimes and increases in extreme fire weather, these results may provide managers with options to create more fire- resilient ecosystems. In areas where frequent high-severity fire is undesirable, management activities such as thinning, prescribed fire, or managed wildland fire can be used to moderate fire behavior not only prior to initial fires, but also before subsequent reburns.