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Historical seasonal changes in prescribed burn windows in California.

  • Author(s): Baijnath-Rodino, Janine A;
  • Li, Shu;
  • Martinez, Alexandre;
  • Kumar, Mukesh;
  • Quinn-Davidson, Lenya N;
  • York, Robert A;
  • Banerjee, Tirtha
  • et al.

Prescribed (Rx) burns are conducted on days when the meteorological thresholds of maximum air temperature, relative humidity, and wind speeds are all met (burn window) in order to ensure safe Rx burn practices. Limited burn windows have been consistently identified as one of the most important constraints for conducting Rx burns in California. We investigate whether burn windows across California can be extended from the typical fall season to include other opportune seasons for facilitating specific management objectives. We quantify the seasonal Rx burn efficiencies by assessing the frequency and burned areas using an aggregate of Rx datasets, and we compute the seasonal spatiotemporal trends in the number of days the set of meteorological parameters are met over thirty-five years (1984 to 2019), using the gridMET 4 km dataset. Our results indicate that while fall burns are most frequently executed (40% of the time), the spring (and to a lesser extent winter) seasons yield efficient Rx burns similar to fall because greater acres are being consumed with less burns. In addition, winter and spring seasons experience burn window opportunities (70-90% of the time) over larger areas than the other seasons, and this is predominantly over forested regions in Northern California. Our results also indicate that burn windows in the winter and spring are decreasing at a rate of one day per year over a larger spatial area than that of summer and fall. This decrease is primarily driven by changes in the number of days the relative humidity thresholds are met. Policymakers recognize the critical importance that Rx burns have on a multitude of ecosystem restoration factors, fire behavior dynamics, and firefighter safety. Therefore, there is a need to capitalize on these additional burn windows before these opportunities become less feasible in the future.

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