The impact of aging on laboratory fire behaviour in masticated shrub fuelbeds of California and Oregon, USA

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Mastication of shrubs and small trees to reduce fire hazard has become a widespread management practice, yet many aspects of the fire behaviour of these unique woody fuelbeds remain poorly understood. To examine the effects of fuelbed aging on fire behaviour, we conducted laboratory burns with masticated Arctostaphylos spp. and Ceanothus spp. woody debris that ranged from 2 to 16 years since treatment. Masticated fuels that were 10 years or older burned with 18 to 29% shorter flame heights and 19% lower fireline intensities compared with the younger fuelbeds across three different fuel loads (25, 50 and 75 Mg ha(-1)). Older fuelbeds smouldered for almost 50% longer than the younger masticated fuelbeds. Fuel consumption was 96% in the two higher fuel load categories regardless of fuelbed age, whereas consumption was 77% in the lighter fuel load. Fire intensity in masticated fuels may decrease over time owing to particle degradation, but in dry environments where decomposition is slow, combustion of the remaining fuels may still pose risks for tree mortality and smoke production associated with protracted smouldering.

fireline intensity, fuel decomposition, fuels treatments, mechanical mastication, smouldering combustion