Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Controlled burns limited severity of Rim Fire – Yosemite 2013

Leave a Comment

December 8, 2017 Penn State  read full ScienceDaily article here

Controlled burning of forestland helped limit the severity of one of California’s largest wildfires, according to geographers.

Fire burning in forest. Credit: Alan Taylor, Penn State

….The researchers studying the Rim Fire, which in 2013 burned nearly 400 square miles of forest in the Sierra Nevadas, found the blaze was less severe in areas recently treated with controlled burns.

….”It points to the potential use of prescribed fires to reduce severe fire effects across landscapes,” he said. “You can fight fire with fire. You can fight severe fires using these more controlled fires under conditions that are suitable.

Scientists examined 21 previous fires within the Rim Fire’s perimeter, which burned in and around Yosemite National Park. They found areas that had burned within the preceding 15 years fared better in the 2013 blaze.

The best predictor of fire severity was how severe the area last burned, according to the findings published in the journal Ecosphere.

Low severity burning seems to be very effective at limiting the severity of subsequent fires,” said Lucas Harris, a graduate student in geography and lead author on the paper.

…”Fire severity has been increasing for about the past three decades,” Taylor said. “There are real questions about whether we are beginning to see a shift in vegetation types driven by fire activity fueled by fire suppression and climate change.”

The researchers said severe fires leave behind a new legacy on the landscape. Less frequent, more severe fires caused by human intervention can change the composition of the forest and make future severe fires more likely to occur. For example, shrubs, which grow quickly after a fire, can take over forestland and then burn again before trees are able to re-establish….

“If you have a high severity initial fire, that’s a real lost opportunity,” Harris said. “You are probably getting a vegetation change due to that first fire that’s going to cause more high-severity fires in the future and potentially the emergence of non-forest that could last for a long time.

Lucas Harris, Alan H. Taylor. Previous burns and topography limit and reinforce fire severity in a large wildfire. Ecosphere, 2017; 8 (11): e02019 DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2019

View all articles

Comments are closed