Fuel Moisture, Forest Type, and Lightning-Caused Fire in Yellowstone National Park

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Canadian Journal of Forest Research

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The occurrence and behavior of lightning-caused fires in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, are evaluated for a 17-yr period (1972-88) during a prescribed natural fire program. Both ignition (occurrence) and spread (stand-replacing fire activity) of fires were strongly influenced by fuel moisture and forest cover type. Fuel moisture estimates of 13% for large (>7.6 cm) dead and downed fuels indicated a threshold below which proportionately more fire starts and increased stand-replacing fire activity were observed. During periods of suitable fuel moisture conditions, fire occurrence and activity were significantly greater than expected in the old-growth, mixed-canopy lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) and Engelmann spruce/subalpine fir (Picea engelmannii/Abies lasiocarpa) forest types, and significantly less than expected in the successional lodgepole pine forest types. During periods of extended low fuel moisture conditions (drought), sustained high winds significantly reduced the influence of forest cover type on stand-replacing fire activity. These extreme weather conditions were observed during the later stages of the 1988 fire season, and, to a lesser extent, for a short duration during the 1981 fire season. The Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forest type typically supported little stand-replacing fire activity, even though a high frequency of fire starts was observed.