Reexamining Fire Suppression Impacts on Brushland Fire Regimes

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Science  11 Jun 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5421, pp. 1829-1832
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5421.1829

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California shrubland wildfires are increasingly destructive, and it is widely held that the problem has been intensified by fire suppression, leading to larger, more intense wildfires. However, analysis of the California Statewide Fire History Database shows that, since 1910, fire frequency and area burned have not declined, and fire size has not increased. Fire rotation intervals have declined, and fire season has not changed, implying that fire intensity has not increased. Fire frequency and population density were correlated, and it is suggested that fire suppression plays a critical role in offsetting potential impacts of increased ignitions. Large fires were not dependent on old age classes of fuels, and it is thus unlikely that age class manipulation of fuels can prevent large fires. Expansion of the urban-wildland interface is a key factor in wildland fire destruction.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: jon_keeley{at}

  • Present address: Organismic Biology, Ecology, and Evolution, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.

  • Present address: Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.

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