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Climatic influences on interannual variability in regional burn severity across western US forests

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Interannual variability in burn severity is assessed across forested ecoregions of the western United States to understand how it is influenced by variations in area burned and climate during 1984-2014. Strong correlations (r>0.6) between annual area burned and climate metrics were found across many of the studied regions. The burn severity of individual fires and fire seasons was weakly, but significantly (P<0.05), correlated with burned area across many regions. Interannual variability in fuel dryness evaluated with fuel aridity metrics demonstrated weak-to-moderate (r >0.4) relationships with regional burn severity, congruent with but weaker than those between climate and area burned for most ecoregions. These results collectively suggest that irrespective of other factors, long-term increases in fuel aridity will lead to increased burn severity in western United States forests for existing vegetation regimes.

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