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Wildfires -- research, Wildfire risk -- United States


Wildfire increases the magnitude of runoff in catchments, leading to the degradation of ecosystems, risk to infrastructure, and loss of life. The Labor Day Fires of 2020 provided an opportunity to compare multiple large and severe wildfires with the objective of determining potential changes to hydrologic processes in Oregon Cascades watersheds. Geographic information systems (GIS) were implemented to determine the total percentage burned and percentage of high burn severity class of six watersheds on the west slope of the Oregon Cascade Range. In addition, two control watersheds were included to contrast the influence of climatic effects. Spatial arrangements of burned patches were investigated for correlation to streamflow response by utilizing landscape metrics algorithms, including Largest Patch Index (LPI), mean gyration (GYRATE), Contiguity Index (CONTIG), Patch Cohesion Index (COHESION), and Clumpiness Index (CLUMPY). Results of the first-year post-fire response were consistent with other studies of fire effects in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) and indicated changes to runoff dynamics were difficult to detect with inferential statistics, but the largest changes in runoff coefficients occurred in watersheds having the greatest percentage burned. Correlation analysis indicated relationships between event runoff coefficients and percentage burned during the 2020 fire season. Control watersheds show confounding runoff coefficients, point to the influence of ongoing drought, and complicate conclusions about the role of spatial burn severity patterns. These results could guide future post-fire studies of spatial patterns of burn severity and could assist watershed managers to prioritize at-risk PNW catchments to minimize harm to ecological and societal values.


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