Using field data to assess model predictions of surface and ground fuel consumption by wildfire in coniferous forests of California



Inventories of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from wildfire provide essential information to the state of California, USA, and other governments that have enacted emission reductions. Wildfires can release a substantial amount of GHGs and other compounds to the atmosphere, so recent increases in fire activity may be increasing GHG emissions. Quantifying wildfire emissions however can be difficult due to inherent variability in fuel loads and consumption and a lack of field data of fuel consumption by wildfire. We compare a unique set of fuel data collected immediately before and after six wildfires in coniferous forests of California to fuel consumption predictions of the first-order fire effects model (FOFEM), based on two different available fuel characterizations. We found strong regional differences in the performance of different fuel characterizations, with FOFEM overestimating the fuel consumption to a greater extent in the Klamath Mountains than in the Sierra Nevada. Inaccurate fuel load inputs caused the largest differences between predicted and observed fuel consumption. Fuel classifications tended to overestimate duff load and underestimate litter load, leading to differences in predicted emissions for some pollutants. When considering total ground and surface fuels, modeled consumption was fairly accurate on average, although the range of error in estimates of plot level consumption was very large. These results highlight the importance of fuel load input to the accuracy of modeled fuel consumption and GHG emissions from wildfires in coniferous forests.