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Fire Ecology, 2009
Volume 5, Issue 2

Effect of Fuel Treatments on Fuels and Potential Fire Behavior in California, USA, National Forests
Authors: Nicole M. Vaillant, JoAnn Fites-Kaufman, Alicia L. Reiner, Erin K. Noonan-Wright, and Scott N. Dailey
Pages: 14-29
DOI: 10.4996/fireecology.0502014

In many parts of California, past timber harvesting, livestock grazing practices, and fire exclusion have changed the fire regime from low to mixed severity to a high severity regime with an increase in active crown fire. Land managers responded by implementing hazardous fuel treatment projects to reduce the risk of such uncharacteristic stand-replacing crown fires. Various fuel treatments have been implemented using either mechanical methods or prescribed fire in forested ecosystems across 14 national forests in California, USA. Mechanical treatments significantly altered forest structure (tree density, 75th percentile quadratic mean diameter, canopy cover, canopy base height, and canopy bulk density) and generally increased surface fuel loads as compared to pre-treatment conditions. Prescribed fire significantly reduced ground and surface fuel loads and increased canopy base height, but did not appreciably alter other forest structure metrics. The changes in forest and fuel structures from prescribed fire reduced predicted fire behavior metrics (fire type, flame length, fireline intensity, and rate of spread); mechanical methods showed mixed effects on resulting fire behavior metrics. Modeled fire type, in addition to predicted flame length, fireline intensity, and rate of spread, is an essential metric for managers when choosing where to implement fuel treatments and for assessing the effectiveness of completed treatments. Under 90th percentile windspeed, out of the five forest treatment combinations, three exhibited some passive crown fire before treatment and only one exhibited passive crown fire after treatment. Using gusting windspeed, four of the five combinations maintain the potential for crown fire (passive or conditional) after treatment. If reducing the potential for uncharacteristic crown fire is the main priority for fuel treatments, it might be beneficial to prioritize areas with elevated risk and to combine both mechanical methods and prescribed fire in order to achieve desired fire behavior under more extreme conditions.

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