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Background: Surface fuel loadings are some of the most important factors contributing to fire intensity and fire spread. In old-growth forests where fire has been long excluded, surface fuel loadings can be high and can include woody debris ≥100 cm in diameter. We assessed surface fuel loadings in a long-unburned old-growth mixed-conifer forest in Yosemite National Park, California, USA, and assessed fuel consumption from a management-ignited fire set to control the progression of the 2013 Rim Fire. Specifically, we characterized the distribution and heterogeneity of pre-fire fuel loadings, both along transects and contained in duff mounds around large trees. We compared surface fuel consumption to that predicted by the standard First Order Fire Effects Model (FOFEM) based on pre-fire fuel loadings and fuel moistures. We also assessed the relationship between tree basal area—calculated for two different spatial neighborhood scales—and pre-fire fuel loadings.
Results: Pre-fire total surface fuel loading averaged 192 Mg ha−1 and was reduced by 79% by the fire to 41 Mg ha−1 immediately after fire. Most fuel components were reduced by 87% to 90% by the fire, with the exception of coarse woody debris (CWD), which was reduced by 60%. Litter depth in duff mounds were within 1 SD of plot means, but duff biomass for the largest trees (>150 cm diameter at breast height [DBH]) exceeded plot background levels. Overstory basal area generally had significant positive relationships with pre-fire fuel loadings of litter, duff, 1-hour, and 10-hour fuels, but the strength of the relationships differed between overstory components (live, dead, all [live and dead], species), and negative relationships were observed between live Pinus lambertiana Douglas basal area and CWD. FOFEM over-predicted rotten CWD consumption and under-predicted duff consumption.
Conclusions: Surface fuel loadings were characterized by heterogeneity and the presence of large pieces. This heterogeneity likely contributed to differential fire behavior at small scales and heterogeneity in the post-fire environment. The reductions in fuel loadings at our research site were in line with ecological restoration objectives; thus, ecologically restorative burning during fire suppression is possible.
Cansler, C.A., Swanson, M.E., Furniss, T.J. et al. Fuel dynamics after reintroduced fire in an old-growth Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forest. fire ecol 15, 16 (2019) doi:10.1186/s42408-019-0035-y