Topography affected landscape fire history patterns in southern Arizona, USA

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50 Scopus citations


Fire histories contribute important information to contemporary fire planning, however, our knowledge is not comprehensive geographically. We evaluated the influence of topography on fire history patterns in two contrasting landscapes within the Santa Catalina Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Multiple fire-scarred trees from randomly selected 2-ha plots were used to develop plot composite mean fire intervals (PCMFIs) within the Butterfly Peak (BP) and Rose Canyon (RC) landscapes. BP is dominated by steep, northerly aspects and presence of potential fire spread barriers (exposed rock bluffs and scree slopes). RC is dominated by more gentle and southerly aspects with relatively few fire barriers. Within each landscape, PCMFIs did not differ significantly between aspect classes from A.D. 1748 to 1910 (BP: p = 0.73 and RC: p = 0.57). Pooled PCMFIs in the gentler RC landscape were, however, significantly shorter (p < 0.001) than in the steeper BP landscape. The frequency of relatively widespread fires (i.e., number of fire years when ≥2 plots scarred) was similar between landscapes, but fires in the gentler RC landscape were significantly larger (p = 0.033). The higher frequency of large fires (i.e., fires that burned >75% of the landscape) in RC resulted in more area burned over time and shorter fire intervals at individual plots. Conversely, smaller fires in the dissected BP landscape resulted in less area burned and longer periods between fires at individual plots. The different topographies in the two landscapes likely result in different wind intensities, fuel moistures, and fuel/vegetation types-and consequently, different historical fire spread patterns. Our conclusion is that fire history patterns are not influenced primarily by stand-scale topography, but rather by the topographic characteristics of the broader, surrounding landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-303
Number of pages9
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 30 2008


  • Arizona Sky Islands
  • Multi-scale analysis
  • Plot composite fire intervals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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