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Adam G. Wells, Todd J. Hawbaker, J. Kevin Hiers, Jason W. Kean, Rachel A. Loehman, Paul F. Steblein
Year Published:

Cataloging Information

Fire Intensity / Burn Severity
Erosion Control

NRFSN number: 25956
Record updated:

Background: Burn severity significantly increases the likelihood and volume of post-wildfire debris flows. Pre-fire severity predictions can expedite mitigation efforts because precipitation contributing to these hazards often occurs shortly after wildfires, leaving little time for post-fire planning and management.

Aim: The aim of this study was to predict burn severity using pre-fire conditions of individual wildfire events and estimate potential post-fire debris flow to unburned areas.

Methods: We used random forests to model dNBR from pre-fire weather, fuels, topography, and remotely sensed data. We validated our model predictions against post-fire observations and potential post-fire debris-flow hazard estimates.

Key results: Fuels, pre-fire weather, and topography were important predictors of burn severity, although predictor importance varied between fires. Post-fire debris-flow hazard rankings from predicted burn severity (pre-fire) were similar to hazard assessments based on observed burn severity (post-fire).

Conclusion: Predicted burn severity can serve as an input to post-fire debris-flow models before wildfires occur, antecedent to standard post-fire burn severity products. Assessing a larger set of fires under disparate conditions and landscapes will be needed to refine predictive models.

Implications: Burn severity models based on pre-fire conditions enable the prediction of fire effects and identification of potential hazards to prioritise response and mitigation.


Wells AG, Hawbaker TJ, Hiers JK, Kean JR, Loehman RA, and Steblein RF, 2023, Predicting burn severity for integration with post-fire debris-flow hazard assessment: a case study from the Upper Colorado River Basin, USA. International Journal of Wildland Fire 32(9): 1315-1331.

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