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James A. Lutz







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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


(1) Background: Satellite monitoring of fire effects is widespread, but often satellite-derived values are considered without respect to the characteristic severity of fires in different vegetation types or fire areas. Particularly in regions with discontinuous vegetation or narrowly distributed vegetation types, such as the state of Utah, USA, specific characterization of satellite-derived fire sensitivity by vegetation and fire size may improve both pre-fire and post-fire management activities. (2) Methods: We analyzed the 775 medium-sized (40 ha ≤ area < 400 ha) and 697 large ( ≥ 400 ha) wildfires that occurred in Utah from 1984 to 2022 and assessed burn severity for all vegetation types using the differenced Normalized Burn Ratio. (3) Results: Between 1984-2021, Utah annually experienced an average of 38 fires ≥ 40 ha that burned an annual average of 58,242 ha with a median dNBR of 165. Fire was heavily influenced by sagebrush and shrubland vegetation types, as these constituted 50.2% (17% SD) of area burned, a proportion which was relatively consistent (18% to 79% yr-1). Medium-sized fires had higher mean severity than large fries in non-forested vegetation types, but forested vegetation types showed the reverse. Between 1985 and 2021, the total area burned in fires ≥ 40 ha in Utah became more concentrated in a smaller number of large fires. (4) Conclusions: In Utah, characteristic fire severity differs both among vegetation types and fire sizes. Fire activity in the recent past may serve as an informative baseline for future fire, although the long period of fire suppression in the 20th century suggests that future fire may be more active. Fire managers planning prescribed fires < 400 ha in forests may find the data from medium-sized fires more indicative of expected behavior than statewide averages or vegetation type averages, both of which are weighted to large fires.