Heading and backing fire behaviours mediate the influence of fuels on wildfire energy
Background: Pre-fire fuels, topography, and weather influence wildfire behaviour and fire-driven ecosystem carbon loss. However, the pre-fire characteristics that contribute to fire behaviour and effects are often understudied for wildfires because measurements are difficult to obtain.
Aims: This study aimed to investigate the relative contribution of pre-fire conditions to fire energy and the role of fire advancement direction in fuel consumption.
Methods: Over 15 years, we measured vegetation and fuels in California mixed-conifer forests within days before and after wildfires, with co-located measurements of active fire behaviour.
Key results: Pre-fire litter and duff fuels were the most important factors in explaining fire energy and contributed similarly across severity categories. Consumption was greatest for the forest floor (litter and duff; 56.8 Mg ha−1) and 1000-h fuels (36.0 Mg ha−1). Heading fires consumed 13.2 Mg ha−1 more litter (232%) and 24.3 Mg ha−1 more duff (202%) than backing fires. Remotely sensed fire severity was weakly correlated (R2 = 0.14) with fuel consumption.
Conclusions: 1000-h fuels, litter, and duff were primary drivers of fire energy, and heading fires consumed more fuel than backing fires.
Implications: Knowledge of how consumption and fire energy differ among contrasting types of fire behaviours may inform wildfire management and fuels treatments.