White ash results from the complete combustion of surface fuels, making it a logically simple retrospective indicator of surface fuel consumption. However, the strength of this relationship has been neither tested nor adequately demonstrated with field measurements. We measured surface fuel loads and cover fractions of white ash and four other surface materials (green vegetation, brown non-photosynthetic vegetation, black char and mineral soil) immediately before and after eight prescribed fires in four disparate fuelbed types: boreal forest floor, mixed conifer woody slash, mixed conifer understorey and longleaf pine understorey. We hypothesised that increased white ash cover should correlate significantly to surface fuel consumption. To test this hypothesis, we correlated field measures of surface fuel consumption with field measures of surface cover change. Across all four fuelbed types, we found increased white ash cover to be the only measure of surface cover change that correlated significantly to surface fuel consumption, supporting our hypothesis. We conclude that white ash load calculated from immediate post-fire measurements of white ash cover, depth and density may provide an even more accurate proxy for surface fuel consumption, and furthermore a more physically based indicator of fire severity that could be incorporated into rapid response, retrospective wildfire assessments.
Hudak, Andrew T.; Ottmar, Roger D.; Vihnanek, Robert E.; Brewer, Nolan W.; Smith, Alistair M. S.; Morgan, Penelope. 2013. The relationship of post-fire white ash cover to surface fuel consumption. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 22: 780-785.