Interactions among wildland fires in a long-established Sierra Nevada natural fire area

Brandon M. Collins, Jay D. Miller, Andrea E. Thode, Maggi Kelly, Jan W. Van Wagtendonk, Scott L. Stephens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

226 Scopus citations


We investigate interactions between successive naturally occurring fires, and assess to what extent the environments in which fires burn influence these interactions. Using mapped fire perimeters and satellite-based estimates of post-fire effects (referred to hereafter as fire severity) for 19 fires burning relatively freely over a 31-year period, we demonstrate that fire as a landscape process can exhibit self-limiting characteristics in an upper elevation Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forest. We use the term 'self-limiting' to refer to recurring fire as a process over time (that is, fire regime) consuming fuel and ultimately constraining the spatial extent and lessening fire-induced effects of subsequent fires. When the amount of time between successive adjacent fires is under 9 years, and when fire weather is not extreme (burning index <34.9), the probability of the latter fire burning into the previous fire area is extremely low. Analysis of fire severity data by 10-year periods revealed a fair degree of stability in the proportion of area burned among fire severity classes (unchanged, low, moderate, high). This is in contrast to a recent study demonstrating increasing high-severity burning throughout the Sierra Nevada from 1984 to 2006, which suggests freely burning fires over time in upper elevation Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forests can regulate fire-induced effects across the landscape. This information can help managers better anticipate short- and long-term effects of allowing naturally ignited fires to burn, and ultimately, improve their ability to implement Wildland Fire Use programs in similar forest types.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114-128
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • Fire ecology
  • Fire management
  • Fire policy
  • Fire severity
  • Prescribed natural fire
  • Self-limiting
  • WFU
  • Wildland fire use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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