Category: Ecological Research
Title: 2015 Wildfire Season: An Overview
Author: Evans, A.M.
Abstract: Southwestern ecosystems are fire-adapted and fire is arguably the most important process in our forests and grass lands. This overview is designed to help everyone from the general public to natural resource managers better understand the past fire season. This report describes the vegetation impacted by the 12 largest fires in Arizona and New Mexico of 2015 (greater than 4,000 acres) and the degree to which the fires affected resources including soils, vegetation, and structures. Weather, climate, vegetation type, fuel conditions, and topography all influence how an individual wildfire burns on the landscape and whether it will have beneficial effects on the landscape. Some fires will leave a large number of unburned patches creating a mosaic burn pattern, whereas others will burn more contiguously. Managers approach each fire with multiple objectives that range from managing the fire for public safety and to protect homes and property to managing the fire to improve natural resources. As federal wildland fire management policy states: “Response to wildland fires is based on ecological, social and legal consequences of the fire. The circumstances under which a fire occurs, and the likely consequences on firefighter and public safety and welfare, natural and cultural resources, and, values to be protected, dictate the appropriate response to the fire.”1 A full range of wildland fire response strategies may be employed to meet these objectives, including containing, confining or suppressing the wildfire. In a notable change, the national Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR) in 2015 began noting fires managed for full suppression in contrast to those using a strategy other than full suppression monitor, confine, or point protection. The Southwest Coordinating Committee recognized that multiple strategies are often used in an individual fire and lists the percentage of each fire managed with monitor, confine, point protection, or suppression.2 It is important to note that federal agencies only recognize two types of fires: prescribed fires and wildfire. Wildland fire management strategies are based on a thoughtful and systematic risk-based approach that takes into account firefighter and public safety, cause of the wildfire, location, existing land management plans, availability of resources, values at risk, and social factors. Federal policy dictates that “initial action on human-caused wildfire will be to suppress the fire.”1 This report follows the format of past years’ overviews3 to facilitate a comparison between years. As in previous overviews, this report covers the temporal period, fire management costs, vegetation types, previous burn footprints, and burn severity. The conclusion section summarizes these same measures for the large fires in the region and also touches on how these fires burned in relation to communities. In 2013, the eight largest fires burned 215,380 acres. In 2014, the 12 largest fires burned 177,907 acres. In 2015, the largest 12 fires burned 125,746, or 62 percent of the total number of acres burned by wildfire in the Southwest in 2015. All wildfires and prescribed fires in Arizona and New Mexico.4 Prescribed fires made up 37% of the acres burned, the highest percentage of acres burned in the Southwest since 2003. Based on the Southwest Coordination Center’s listing, managers used full suppression strategies on 11% and other strategies on 89% of the acres burned in fires over 100 acres in 2015.5 Eightysix percent and 65% of fires over 100 acres were managed with full suppression strategies in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Most of the fires in the Southwest in 2015 burned in Arizona (79%). This overview only includes three New Mexico fires: the Red Canyon, North Cut and Guadalupe fires; eight fires burned in Arizona: Whitetail, Camillo, Springs, Sawmill, Playground, Rattlesnake, Jar Complex, and SA Hill; and the remaining fire, the Hog Fire, burned in both states. These 12 fires are listed in order of size starting with the largest.
Type: ERI Papers
Source: Ecological Restoration Institute/Southwest Fire Science Consortium
Publisher: Ecological Restoration Institute