Landscape Ecology

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 545–557 | Cite as

Spatial patterns of large natural fires in Sierra Nevada wilderness areas

  • Brandon M. Collins
  • Maggi Kelly
  • Jan W. van Wagtendonk
  • Scott L. Stephens
Research Article


The effects of fire on vegetation vary based on the properties and amount of existing biomass (or fuel) in a forest stand, weather conditions, and topography. Identifying controls over the spatial patterning of fire-induced vegetation change, or fire severity, is critical in understanding fire as a landscape scale process. We use gridded estimates of fire severity, derived from Landsat ETM+ imagery, to identify the biotic and abiotic factors contributing to the observed spatial patterns of fire severity in two large natural fires. Regression tree analysis indicates the importance of weather, topography, and vegetation variables in explaining fire severity patterns between the two fires. Relative humidity explained the highest proportion of total sum of squares throughout the Hoover fire (Yosemite National Park, 2001). The lowest fire severity corresponded with increased relative humidity. For the Williams fire (Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, 2003) dominant vegetation type explains the highest proportion of sum of squares. Dominant vegetation was also important in determining fire severity throughout the Hoover fire. In both fires, forest stands that were dominated by lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) burned at highest severity, while red fir (Abies magnifica) stands corresponded with the lowest fire severities. There was evidence in both fires that lower wind speed corresponded with higher fire severity, although the highest fire severity in the Williams fire occurred during increased wind speed. Additionally, in the vegetation types that were associated with lower severity, burn severity was lowest when the time since last fire was fewer than 11 and 17 years for the Williams and Hoover fires, respectively. Based on the factors and patterns identified, managers can anticipate the effects of management ignited and naturally ignited fires at the forest stand and the landscape levels.


Fire ecology Normalized Burn Ratio dNBR Prescribed natural fire Regression tree Wildland fire use 



We sincerely thank Carl Key and Nate Benson with the USGS for processing the Landsat ETM+ data and providing the dNBR images of both fires (which, along with the dNBR images of many other fires, are available from Matt Smith also contributed to the data manipulation and analysis. Two reviewers provided invaluable comments that strengthened the communicability of this paper. The Joint Fire Sciences Program funded this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brandon M. Collins
    • 1
  • Maggi Kelly
    • 1
  • Jan W. van Wagtendonk
    • 2
  • Scott L. Stephens
    • 1
  1. 1.Ecosystem Sciences Division, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and ManagementUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.United States Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research CenterEl PortalUSA

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