Mike Flannigan


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Evaluation of new methods for drought estimation in the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System
Chelene C. Hanes, Mike Wotton, Laura Bourgeau‐Chavez, Douglas G. Woolford, Stéphane Bélair, David L. Martell, Mike Flannigan
International Journal of Wildland Fire

Background Canadian fire management agencies track drought conditions using the Drought Code (DC) in the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System. The DC represents deep organic layer moisture.Aims To determine if electronic soil moisture probes and land surface model estimates of soil moisture content can be used to supplement and/or improve our understanding of drought in fire danger rating.Methods We carried out field studies in the provinces of Alberta and Ontario. We installed in situ soil moisture probes at two different depths in seven forest plots, from the surface through the organic layers, and in some cases into the mineral soil.Results Our results indicated that the simple DC model predicted the moisture content of the deeper organic layers (10–18 cm depths) well, even compared with the more sophisticated land surface model.Conclusions Electronic moisture probes can be used to supplement the DC. Land surface model estimates of moisture content consistently underpredicted organic layer moisture content.Implications Calibration and validation of the land surface model to organic soils in addition to mineral soils is necessary for future use in fire danger prediction.


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Scientists' warning on extreme wildfire risks to water supply
François Robinne, Dennis W. Hallema, Kevin D. Bladon, Mike Flannigan, Gabrielle Boisramé, Christian Bréthaut, Stefan H. Doerr, Giuliano Di Baldassarre, Louise Gallagher, Amanda K. Hohner, Stuart J. Khan, A. M. Kinoshita, Rua S. Mordecai, João Pedro Nunes, Petter Nyman, Cristina Santín, Gary Sheridan, Cathelijne R. Stoof, Matthew P. Thompson, J. M. Waddington, Yu Wei
Hydrological Processes, Volume 35, Issue 5

2020 is the year of wildfire records. California experienced its three largest fires early in its fire season. The Pantanal, the largest wetland on the planet, burned over 20% of its surface. More than 18 million hectares of forest and bushland burned during the 2019–2020 fire season in Australia, killing 33 people, destroying nearly 2500 homes, and endangering many endemic species. The direct cost of damages is being counted in dozens of billion dollars, but the indirect costs on water-related ecosystem services and benefits could be equally expensive, with impacts lasting for decades. In Australia, the extreme precipitation (“200 mm day −1 in several location”) that interrupted the catastrophic wildfire season triggered a series of watershed effects from headwaters to areas downstream. The increased runoff and erosion from burned areas disrupted water supplies in several locations. These post-fire watershed hazards via source water contamination, flash floods, and mudslides can represent substantial, systemic long-term risks to drinking water production, aquatic life, and socio-economic activity. Scenarios similar to the recent event in Australia are now predicted to unfold in the Western USA. This is a new reality that societies will have to live with as uncharted fire activity, water crises, and widespread human footprint collide all-around of the world. Therefore, we advocate for a more proactive approach to wildfire-watershed risk governance in an effort to advance and protect water security. We also argue that there is no easy solution to reducing this risk and that investments in both green (i.e., natural) and grey (i.e., built) infrastructure will be necessary. Further, we propose strategies to combine modern data analytics with existing tools for use by water and land managers worldwide to leverage several decades worth of data and knowledge on post-fire hydrology.


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Evaluation of Gridded Precipitation Data and Interpolation Methods for Forest Fire Danger Rating in Alberta, Canada
Xinli Cai, Xianli Wang, Piyush Jain, Mike Flannigan
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, Volume 124, Issue 1

The Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index System is the primary measurement of wildfire danger in Canada. Interpolating daily precipitation, one of the inputs for the Fire Weather Index System is a key challenge in areas without sufficient weather stations. This work evaluates the performance of gridded precipitation from the Canadian Precipitation Analysis (CaPA) System and six interpolation methods to achieve the best fire danger rating in Alberta, Canada. Results show that the CaPA System has only average performance due to limited radar coverage (10%) in the forested region; however, using the CaPA System as a covariate with regression kriging generates significantly better precipitation estimates. Ordinary kriging, regression kriging with elevation as a covariate, and the thin‐plate smoothed spline are methods with similar performance. Fuel moisture codes of the Fire Weather Index System respond differently to precipitation amounts due to differences in their time constants for drying. Fine fuels with a short drying time (Fine Fuel Moisture Code) are best estimated by the CaPA System because of its enhanced skill in estimating small precipitation events. Compacted organic fuels with longer drying times (Duff Moisture Code and Drought Code) are best estimated by regression kriging with CaPA because it better predicts significant precipitation events. The dense fire weather station network in our study area (~3.0 stations/10,000 km2) allows us to perform a sensitivity analysis, and we find that a threshold of >0.5 stations/10,000 km2 is needed for regression kriging with CaPA to become appreciably better than the CaPA System.

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Fire-regime changes in Canada over the last half century
Chelene C. Hanes, Xianli Wang, Piyush Jain, Marc‐André Parisien, John M. Little, Mike Flannigan
Canadian Journal of Forest Research, Volume 49, Issue 3

Contemporary fire regimes of Canadian forests have been well documented based on forest fire records between the late 1950s to 1990s. Due to known limitations of fire datasets, an analysis of changes in fire-regime characteristics could not be easily undertaken. This paper presents fire-regime trends nationally and within two zonation systems, the homogeneous fire-regime zones and ecozones, for two time periods, 1959–2015 and 1980–2015. Nationally, trends in both area burned and number of large fires (≥200 ha) have increased significantly since 1959, which might be due to increases in lightning-caused fires. Human-caused fires, in contrast, have shown a decline. Results suggest that large fires have been getting larger over the last 57 years and that the fire season has been starting approximately one week earlier and ending one week later. At the regional level, trends in fire regimes are variable across the country, with fewer significant trends. Area burned, number of large fires, and lightning-caused fires are increasing in most of western Canada, whereas human-caused fires are either stable or declining throughout the country. Overall, Canadian forests appear to have been engaged in a trajectory towards more active fire regimes over the last half century.

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Soil bacterial and fungal response to wildfires in the Canadian boreal forest across a burn severity gradient
Thea Whitman, Ellen Whitman, Jamie Woolet, Mike Flannigan, Dan K. Thompson, Marc‐André Parisien
Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Volume 138

Abstract Global fire regimes are changing, with increases in wildfire frequency and severity expected for many North American forests over the next 100 years. Fires can result in dramatic changes to carbon (C) stocks and can restructure plant and microbial communities, with long-lasting effects on ecosystem functions. We investigated wildfire effects on soil microbial communities (bacteria and fungi) in an extreme fire season in the northwestern Canadian boreal forest, using field surveys, remote sensing, and high-throughput amplicon sequencing in upland and wetland sites. We hypothesized that vegetation community and soil pH would be the most important determinants of microbial community composition, while the effect of fire might not be significant, and found that fire occurrence, along with vegetation community, moisture regime, pH, total carbon, and soil texture are all significant predictors of soil microbial community composition. Burned communities become increasingly dissimilar to unburned communities with increasingly severe burns, and the burn severity index (an index of the fractional area of consumed organic soils and exposed mineral soils) best predicted total bacterial community composition, while whether a site was burned or not was the best predictor for fungi. Globally abundant taxa were identified as significant positive fire responders in this system, including the bacteria Massilia sp. (64 × more abundant with fire) and Arthrobacter sp. (35 × ), and the fungi Penicillium sp. (22 × ) and Fusicladium sp. (12 × ). Bacterial and fungal co-occurrence network modules were characterized by fire responsiveness as well as pH and moisture regime. Building on the efforts of previous studies, our results consider a particularly wide range of soils, vegetation, and burn severities, and we identify specific fire-responsive microbial taxa and suggest that accounting for burn severity improves our understanding of microbial response to fires.


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A spatial evaluation of global wildfire-water risks to human and natural systems
François Robinne, Kevin D. Bladon, Carol Miller, Marc‐André Parisien, Jérôme Mathieu, Mike Flannigan
Science of The Total Environment, Volume 610-611

The large mediatic coverage of recent massive wildfires across the world has emphasized the vulnerability of freshwater resources. The extensive hydrogeomorphic effects from a wildfire can impair the ability of watersheds to provide safe drinking water to downstream communities and high-quality water to maintain riverine ecosystem health. Safeguarding water use for human activities and ecosystems is required for sustainable development; however, no global assessment of wildfire impacts on water supply is currently available. Here, we provide the first global evaluation of wildfire risks to water security, in the form of a spatially explicit index. We adapted the Driving forces-Pressure-State-Impact-Response risk analysis framework to select a comprehensive set of indicators of fire activity and water availability, which we then aggregated to a single index of wildfire-water risk using a simple additive weighted model. Our results show that water security in many regions of the world is potentially vulnerable, regardless of socio-economic status. However, in developing countries, a critical component of the risk is the lack of socio-economic capability to respond to disasters. Our work highlights the importance of addressing wildfire-induced risks in the development of water security policies; the geographic differences in the components of the overall risk could help adapting those policies to different regional contexts.

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Temporal Patterns of Wildfire Activity in Areas of Contrasting Human Influence in the Canadian Boreal Forest
Rodrigo Campos-Ruiz, Marc‐André Parisien, Mike Flannigan
Forests, Volume 9, Issue 4

The influence of humans on the boreal forest has altered the temporal and spatial patterns of wildfire activity through modification of the physical environment and through fire management for the protection of human and economic values. Wildfires are actively suppressed in areas with higher human influence, but, paradoxically, these areas have more numerous ignitions than low-impact ones because of the high rates of human-ignited fires, especially during the springtime. The aim of this study is to evaluate how humans have altered the temporal patterns of wildfire activity in the Canadian boreal forest by comparing two adjacent areas of low and high human influence, respectively: Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) and the Lower Athabasca Plains (LAP). We carried out Singular Spectrum Analysis to identify trends and cycles in wildfires from 1970 to 2015 for the two areas and examined their association with climate conditions. We found human influence to be reflected in wildfire activity in multiple ways: (1) by dampening (i.e., for area burned)—and even reversing (i.e., for the number of fires)—the increasing trends of fire activity usually associated with drier and warmer conditions; (2) by shifting the peak of fire activity from the summer to the spring; (3) by altering the fire-climate association; and (4) by exhibiting more recurrent ( 9 years).

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Mapping Canadian wildland fire interface areas
Lynn M. Johnston, Mike Flannigan
International Journal of Wildland Fire, Volume 27, Issue 1

Destruction of human-built structures occurs in the ‘wildland–urban interface’ (WUI) – where homes or other burnable community structures meet with or are interspersed within wildland fuels. To mitigate WUI fires, basic information such as the location of interface areas is required, but such information is not available in Canada. Therefore, in this study, we produced the first national map of WUI in Canada. We also extended the WUI concept to address potentially vulnerable industrial structures and infrastructure that are not traditionally part of the WUI, resulting in two additional maps: a ‘wildland–industrial interface’ map (i.e. the interface of wildland fuels and industrial structures, denoted here as WUI-Ind) and a ‘wildland–infrastructure interface’ map (i.e. the interface of wildland fuels and infrastructure such as roads and railways, WUI-Inf). All three interface types (WUI, WUI-Ind, WUI-Inf) were defined as areas of wildland fuels within a variable-width buffer (maximum distance: 2400m) from potentially vulnerable structures or infrastructure. Canada has 32.3 million ha of WUI (3.8% of total national land area), 10.5 million ha of WUI-Ind (1.2%) and 109.8 million ha of WUI-Inf (13.0%). The maps produced here provide a baseline for future research and have a wide variety of practical applications.

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Topoedaphic and Forest Controls on Post-Fire Vegetation Assemblies Are Modified by Fire History and Burn Severity in the Northwestern Canadian Boreal Forest
Ellen Whitman, Marc‐André Parisien, Dan K. Thompson, Mike Flannigan
Forests, Volume 9, Issue 3

Wildfires, which constitute the most extensive natural disturbance of the boreal biome, produce a broad range of ecological impacts to vegetation and soils that may influence post-fire vegetation assemblies and seedling recruitment. We inventoried post-fire understory vascular plant communities and tree seedling recruitment in the northwestern Canadian boreal forest and characterized the relative importance of fire effects and fire history, as well as non-fire drivers (i.e., the topoedaphic context and climate), to post-fire vegetation assemblies. Topoedaphic context, pre-fire forest structure and composition, and climate primarily controlled the understory plant communities and shifts in the ranked dominance of tree species (***8% and **13% of variance explained, respectively); however, fire and fire-affected soils were significant secondary drivers of post-fire vegetation. Wildfire had a significant indirect effect on understory vegetation communities through post-fire soil properties (**5%), and fire history and burn severity explained the dominance shifts of tree species (*7%). Fire-related variables were important explanatory variables in classification and regression tree models explaining the dominance shifts of four tree species (R2 = 0.43–0.65). The dominance of jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb.) and trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) increased following fires, whereas that of black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) BSP.) and white spruce (Picea glauca (Moench) Voss) declined. The overriding importance of site and climate to post-fire vegetation assemblies may confer some resilience to disturbed forests; however, if projected increases in fire activity in the northwestern boreal forest are borne out, secondary pathways of burn severity, fire frequency, and fire effects on soils are likely to accelerate ongoing climate-driven shifts in species compositions.