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Every year, wildfires devastate the landscapes of Southern California from Los Angeles to San Diego. Why do some communities burn, and some don't? USGS is analyzing fire patterns at the wildland-urban interface (WUI) for clues to help cities balance their management of fire hazards and natural resources.



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LIVING WITH FIRE: THE USGS SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE RISK PROJECT

Southern California's fire ecology is unlike that of anywhere else in the United States. Fire control strategies developed for mountain forests don't have the same results here. So can science help uncover new answers to help Southern California communities manage and live with wildfires? This 10 minute film showcases ongoing USGS research supporting agencies on the frontlines of fire management. 

Like earthquakes, southern California wildfires can't be prevented -- but the risks they pose to our communities and landscapes can be managed. USGS scientists hope to increase our understanding of wildfire factors. The resulting research can assist managers and planners in finding solutions to reduce the risk of home and habitat loss -- and help southern California truly learn to live with fire.



LIST OF REFERENCES FOR LIVING WITH FIRE

The following is a list of references and footnotes that support statements and facts mentioned in the USGS documentary film Living with Fire. These time marks correspond to the version of the film hosted on the USGS Multimedia Gallery and on YouTube

02:03  “Southern California's fire ecology is unlike that of anywhere else in the United States...”

Southern California's fire ecology is reviewed in the following texts:

Keeley, JE, WJ Bond, RA Bradstock, JG Pausas, W Rundel. 2012. Fire in mediterranean climate ecosystems: ecology, evolution and management. Cambridge University Press. 528 p.

Keeley, JE. 2006. South coast bioregion. In Sugihara, NG, JW van Wagtendonk, KE Shaffer, J Fites-Kaufman, AE Thoede. 2006. Fire in California’s Ecosystems. University of California Press.

03:50  “What we’re finding, really, is that location is the most significant risk factor. And the most dangerous locations are those along ridgetops, in… Santa Ana wind corridors, as well as when there is really low housing density or the homes are scattered in isolated clusters of development. These homes… are more difficult for firefighters to get to…”

These were among the findings of a 2012 study authored by researchers with the Southern California Wildfire Risk Scenario Project:

Syphard, AD, JE Keeley, A Bar Massada, TJ Brennan, VC Radeloff. 2012. Housing arrangement and location determine the likelihood of housing loss due to wildfire. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33954. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033954

Download and read a Publication Brief of this study: Housing Location Factors Determine Risk of Housing Loss from Wildfires in Southern California.

05:12  “But according to the National Park Service, neither of these outcomes was achieved.” 

The case study of prescribed fires in Santa Monica National Recreation Area was presented at the following conference in 2004:

Keeley, JE, MS Witter, RS Taylor. 2004. Challenges of managing fires along an urban-wildland interface -- lessons from the Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles, California. Third International Wildland Fire Conference, Sydney, Australia.

05:16  “Research has now revealed that prescribed burning has no effect on the fire pattern in chaparral”

This was among the findings of a 2012 study authored by researchers with the Southern California Wildfire Risk Scenario Project:

Price, OF, RA Bradstock, JE Keeley, AD Syphard. 2012. The impact of antecedent fire area on burned area in southern California coastal ecosystems. Journal of Environmental Management 113: 301-307. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2012.08.042

Download and read a Publication Brief of this study: Prescribed Fires Do Not Reduce Future Area Burned in Central and Southern California

05:48  “The problem is that fuel breaks often don’t stop fires in progress, particularly under really high wind conditions and when the fuel is really dry, because a lot of times embers will just fly across the fuel break... they really only work when firefighters are present or under mild weather conditions.”

These were among the findings of two 2011 studies authored by researchers with the Southern California Wildfire Risk Scenario Project:

Syphard, AD, JE Keeley, TJ Brennan. 2011. Comparing the Role of Fuel Breaks Across Southern California National Forests. Forest Ecology and Management 261(2011): 2038-2048. doi: 10.1016/j.foreco.2011.02.030   

Syphard, AD, JE Keeley, TJ Brennan. 2011. Factors Affecting Fuel Break Effectiveness in the Control of Large Fires on the Los Padres National Forest, California. International Journal of Wildland Fire 20: 764-775.doi: 10.1071/WF10065

Download and read a Publication Brief of these studies: Fuel Break Effectiveness in Southern California Depends on Firefighter Access.


06:16   “... because non-native weeds move in, which are much more flammable... these weeds may lead to a longer fire season.”

Nonnative plant invasions and the resulting impact on native woody plants are explored in these studies:

Keeley, JE, TJ Brennan. 2012. Fire-driven alien invasion in a fire-adapted ecosystem. Oecologia 69(4): 1043-1052. doi: 10.1007/s00442-012-2283-8

Keeley, JE, J Franklin, C D'Antonio. 2011. Fire and invasive plants on California landscapes, pp. 193-221. In McKenzie, D, C Miller, DA Falk (eds), The Landscape Ecology of Fire. Springer, New York.

Keeley, JE. 2006. Fire management impacts on invasive plant species in the western United States. Conservation Biology 20: 375-384.


06:52   “More than 95 percent of all fires in Southern California are caused by humans -- not by natural sources like lightning strikes... human factors have increased fire ignitions and fire frequency dramatically.”

The impact of human ignitions on fire patterns in Southern California are explored in these studies:

Syphard, AD, VC Radeloff, NS Keuler, RS Taylor, TJ Hawbaker, SI Stewart, MK Clayton. 2008. Predicting spatial patterns of fire on a southern California landscape. International Journal of Wildland Fire 17: 602-613. doi: 10.1071/WF07087

Syphard, AD, VC Radeloff, JE Keeley, TJ Hawbaker, MK Clayton, SI Stewart, RB Hammer, R.B. 2007. Human influence on California fire regimes. Ecological Applications 17: 1388-1402. doi: 10.1890/06-1128.1


07:37  “They examined foot-by-foot... and then analyzed what burned and what did not...

These are the methods used in a study in preparation from researchers with the Southern California Wildfire Risk Scenario Project. The study analyzed satellite images of thousands of residential structures before and after fires, quantified the ornamental landscaping (trees) and housing features (decks, sheds) for each structure, and assessed structure condition after the fire. The completed study will be submitted to USGS and to a scientific journal for peer-review. Contact Jon Keeley for details.


08:19  “Ultimately they hope to integrate all these wildfire factors into what is known as a decision model.

Creating a usable scenario tool for resource managers is one of the end goals of the Southern California Wildfire Risk Scenario Project. As studies on various factors of fire hazards are completed, parameters and functions will be incorporated into the decision model. Contact Jon Keeley and Ross Bradstock for details.

For further reading on fires and California’s shrublands and chaparral, please consult the following:

Keeley, JE, WJ Bond, RA Bradstock, JG Pausas, W Rundel. 2012. Fire in mediterranean climate ecosystems: ecology, evolution and management. Cambridge University Press. 528 p.

Keeley, JE, GH Aplet, NL Christensen, SG Conard, EA Johnson, PN Omi, DL Peterson, TW Swetnam. 2009. Ecological foundations for fire management in North American forest and shrubland ecosystems. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, General Technical Report, PNW-GTR-779. 92 p.


Updated 2013.07.31

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