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LeRoy Westerling

(209) 756-8793

Ph.D., 2000 — University of California, San Diego

B.A., 1987 — University of California, Los Angeles


A long history of fire suppression in the western United States has significantly changed forest structure and ecological function, leading to increasingly uncharacteristic fires in terms of size and severity. Prior analyses of fire severity in California forests showed that time since last fire and fire weather conditions predicted fire severity very well, while a larger regional analysis showed that topography and climate were important predictors of high severity fire. There has not yet been a large-scale study that incorporates topography, vegetation and fire-year climate to determine regional scale high severity fire occurrence. We developed models to predict the probability of high severity fire occurrence for the western US. We predict high severity fire occurrence with some accuracy, and identify the relative importance of predictor classes in determining the probability of high severity fire. The inclusion of both vegetation and fire-year climate predictors was critical for model skill in identifying fires with high fractional fire severity. The inclusion of fire-year climate variables allows this model to forecast inter-annual variability in areas at future risk of high severity fire, beyond what slower-changing fuel conditions alone can accomplish. This allows for more targeted land management, including resource allocation for fuels reduction treatments to decrease the risk of high severity fire.