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Lethal soil temperatures during burning of masticated forest residuesAuthor(s): Matt D. Busse; Ken R. Hubbert; Gary O. Fiddler; Carol J. Shestak; Robert F. Powers
Source: International Journal of Wildland Fire: Vol. 14: 267-276
Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication
PDF: Download Publication (300 KB)
DescriptionMastication of woody shrubs is used increasingly as a management option to reduce fire risk at the wildland-urban interface. Whether the resulting mulch layer leads to extreme soil heating, if burned, is unknown. We measured temperature profiles in a clay loam soil during burning of Arctostaphylos residues. Four mulch depths were burned (0, 2.5, 7.5 and 12.5 cm), spanning typical conditions at forested sites in northern California with dense pre-mastication shrub cover. Two soil moisture contents were compared at each fuel depth to simulate spring prescribed burning (moist soil) and late-season wildfire (dry soil). Maximum temperatures reached 600˚C on the surface of dry soils and were 100-200˚C lower for moist soil. Heating was extensive in dry soil for the two deepest mulch depths, exceeding the lethal threshold for plants (60˚C) for a minimum of 7 h throughout the 10-cm soil profile. Minimal heat pulse was found with less mulch. Moist soil also dampened heat penetration; peak temperatures exceeded 60˚C only to 2.5 cm in the soil profile for all but the deepest mulch layer. No adverse effects of burning on water repellency were found in dry or moist soil. The potential for biological damage from soil heat during fire exists following mastication, particularly in dry soil with a mulch depth of 7.5 cm or greater. Field projections indicate that up to one-fourth of treated areas with dense pre-mastication vegetation would surpass lethal soil temperatures during a surface wildfire.
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CitationBusse, Matt D.; Hubbert, Ken R.; Fiddler, Gary O.; Shestak, Carol J.; Powers, Robert F. 2005. Lethal soil temperatures during burning of masticated forest residues. International Journal of Wildland Fire: Vol. 14: 267-276
Keywordsfuel reduction, prescribed fire, soil heating, soil moisture, soil water repellency, wildfire, wildland-urban interface, wood mulch
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