Fuel treatment effectiveness in the context of landform, vegetation, and large, wind-driven wildfires

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This study evaluated drivers of fire severity and fuel treatment effectiveness in the 2014 Carlton Complex, a record‐setting complex of wildfires in north‐central Washington State. All treatment areas burned with higher proportions of moderate and high severity fire during early fire progressions, but thin and underburn, underburn only, and past wildfires were more effective than thin‐only and thin and pile burn treatments. Treatment units had much greater percentages of unburned and low severity area in later progressions that burned under milder fire weather conditions, and differences between treatments were less pronounced. Our results provide evidence that strategic placement of fuels reduction treatments can effectively reduce localized fire spread and severity even under severe fire weather. During wind‐driven fire spread progressions, fuel treatments that were located on leeward slopes tended to have lower fire severity than treatments located on windward slopes. As fire and fuels managers evaluate options for increasing landscape resilience to future climate change and wildfires, strategic placement of fuel treatments may be guided by retrospective studies of past large wildfire events.

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