California has experienced a rapid increase in burned area over the past several decades. Although fire behavior is known to be closely tied to ecosystem impacts, most analysis of changing fire regimes has focused solely on area burned. Here we present a standardized database of wildfire behavior, including daily fire rate-of-spread and fire radiative power for large, multiday wildfires in California during 2012–2018 using remotely-sensed active fire observations. We observe that human-ignited fires start at locations with lower tree cover and during periods with more extreme fire weather. These characteristics contribute to more explosive growth in the first few days following ignition for human-caused fires as compared to lightning-caused fires. The faster fire spread, in turn, yields a larger ecosystem impact, with tree mortality more than three times higher for fast-moving fires (>1 km day−1) than for slow moving fires (<0.5 km day−1). Our analysis shows how human-caused fires can amplify ecosystem impacts and highlights the importance of limiting human-caused fires during period of extreme fire weather for meeting forest conservation targets under scenarios of future change.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)