Sep 8, 2015

Identification of two distinct fire regimes in Southern California: implications for economic impact and future change

Yufang Jin, Michael L Goulden, Nicolas Faivre, Sander Veraverbeke, Fengpeng Sun, Alex Hall, Michael S Hand, Simon Hook and James T Randerson
Environmental Research Letters
  • States that:
    • Southern California's wildfires can be partitioned by meteorology: fires typically occur either during Santa Ana winds (SA fires) in October through April, or warm and dry periods in June through September (non-SA fires)
    • Previous work has not quantitatively distinguished between these fire regimes when assessing economic impacts or climate change influence
  • Separates five decades of fire perimeters into those coinciding with and without SA winds
  • Finds that the two fire types contributed almost equally to burned area, yet SA fires were responsible for 80% of cumulative 1990–2009 economic losses ($3.1 billion)
  • Finds that the damage disparity was driven by fire characteristics: SA fires spread three times faster, occurred closer to urban areas, and burned into areas with greater housing values
  • Results show that non-SA fires were comparatively more sensitive to age-dependent fuels, often occurred in higher elevation forests, lasted for extended periods, and accounted for 70% of total suppression costs