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International Journal of Wildland Fire

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The relationship between large fire occurrence and drought has important implications for fire prediction under current and future climates. This study’s primary objective was to evaluate correlations between drought and fire-danger- rating indices representing short- and long-term drought, to determine which had the strongest relationships with large fire occurrence at the scale of the western United States during the years 1984-2008. We combined 4-8-km gridded drought and fire-danger-rating indices with information on fires greater than 404.7 ha (1000 acres). To account for differences in indices across climate and vegetation assemblages, indices were converted to percentile conditions for each pixel. Correlations between area burned and short-term indices Energy Release Component and monthly precipitation percentile were strong (R2=0.92 and 0.89), as were correlations between number of fires and these indices (R2=0.94 and 0.93). As the period of time tabulated by indices lengthened, correlations with fire occurrence weakened: Palmer Drought Severity Index and 24-month Standardised Precipitation Index percentile showed weak correlations with area burned (R2= 0.25 and -0.01) and number of large fires (R2=0.3 and 0.01). These results indicate associations between short-term indices and moisture content of dead fuels, the primary carriers of surface fire.


area burned, ERC, MTBS, number of fires, PDSI, precipitation, SPI



This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.