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Heading and backing fire behaviours mediate the influence of fuels on wildfire energy

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Background: Pre-fire fuels, topography, and weather influence wildfire behaviour and fire-driven ecosystem carbon loss. However, the pre-fire characteristics that contribute to fire behaviour and effects are often understudied for wildfires because measurements are difficult to obtain. Aims: This study aimed to investigate the relative contribution of pre-fire conditions to fire energy and the role of fire advancement direction in fuel consumption. Methods: Over 15 years, we measured vegetation and fuels in California mixed-conifer forests within days before and after wildfires, with co-located measurements of active fire behaviour. Key results: Pre-fire litter and duff fuels were the most important factors in explaining fire energy and contributed similarly across severity categories. Consumption was greatest for the forest floor (litter and duff; 56.8 Mg ha−1) and 1000-h fuels (36.0 Mg ha−1). Heading fires consumed 13.2 Mg ha−1 more litter (232%) and 24.3 Mg ha−1 more duff (202%) than backing fires. Remotely sensed fire severity was weakly correlated (R2 = 0.14) with fuel consumption. Conclusions: 1000-h fuels, litter, and duff were primary drivers of fire energy, and heading fires consumed more fuel than backing fires. Implications: Knowledge of how consumption and fire energy differ among contrasting types of fire behaviours may inform wildfire management and fuels treatments.
J.D. Birch; M.B. Dickinson; A. Reiner; E.E. Knapp; S.N. Dailey; C. Ewell; J.A. Lutz; J.R. Miesel
Birch JD, Dickinson MB, Reiner A, Knapp EE, Dailey SN, Ewell C, Lutz JA, Miesel JR. Heading and backing fire behaviours mediate the influence of fuels on wildfire energy. International Journal of Wildland Fire [Internet]. 2023 . Available from: