Evaluating Model Predictions of Fire Induced Tree Mortality Using Wildfire-Affected Forest Inventory Measurements

TitleEvaluating Model Predictions of Fire Induced Tree Mortality Using Wildfire-Affected Forest Inventory Measurements
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsBarker, JS
Secondary AuthorsFried, JS
Tertiary AuthorsGray, AN
Start Page958
Keywordsfire behavior, forest inventory (FIA), FVS-FFE, Post-fire Management, technical reports and journal articles, tree mortality, wildfire

Forest land managers rely on predictions of tree mortality generated from fire behavior models to identify stands for post-fire salvage and to design fuel reduction treatments that reduce mortality. A key challenge in improving the accuracy of these predictions is selecting appropriate wind and fuel moisture inputs. Our objective was to evaluate postfire mortality predictions using the Forest Vegetation Simulator Fire and Fuels Extension (FVS-FFE) to determine if using representative fire-weather data would improve prediction accuracy over two default weather scenarios. We used pre- and post-fire measurements from 342 stands on forest inventory plots, representing a wide range of vegetation types affected by wildfire in California, Oregon, and Washington. Our representative weather scenarios were created by using data from local weather stations for the time each stand was believed to have burned. The accuracy of predicted mortality (percent basal area) with different weather scenarios was evaluated for all stands, by forest type group, and by major tree species using mean error, mean absolute error (MAE), and root mean square error (RMSE). One of the representative weather scenarios, Mean Wind, had the lowest mean error (4%) in predicted mortality, but performed poorly in some forest types, which contributed to a relatively high RMSE of 48% across all stands. Driven in large part by over-prediction of modelled flame length on steeper slopes, the greatest over-prediction mortality errors arose in the scenarios with higher winds and lower fuel moisture. Our results also indicated that fuel moisture was a stronger influence on post-fire mortality than wind speed. Our results suggest that using representative weather can improve accuracy of mortality predictions when attempting to model over a wide range of forest types. Focusing simulations exclusively on extreme conditions, especially with regard to wind speed, may lead to over-prediction of tree mortality from fire.