- Wildfire management policy over the past century, which attempts to exclude fire from fire-adapted ecosystems, has led to a build-up of fuels across the western United States. As a result, current wildfires contain larger areas of high severity, high intensity burns than seen prior to the policy implementation. There are three leading methods for dealing with this build-up of fuels. The first two, mechanical thinning and prescribed fire, are techniques used to enter an ecosystem and reduce the fuel loads in a specific area. Either can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per hectare. The third method, wildland fire use, is comparatively cheap, while maintaining the benefit of reduced current and future suppression costs. However, it is commonly over-looked, in part because the fire management officer who allows a wildfire to spread when it could have been suppressed can be held liable for damage to property and loss of life, should such events occur.
In this thesis, I describe a method for estimating the future suppression cost savings that result from allowing a fire that occurs in the current year to burn. It was hypothesized that under some known, current conditions, given a random selection of future ignitions and weather, the present value of a landscape would be higher given that a fire in the current year was allowed to burn, rather than suppressed.
A computer program was used to simulate 100-year sample pathways, which included fire and growth events, on a study area in the southeastern Deschutes National Forest. Based on avoided suppression costs, and a crude estimate of timber losses, some of these potential futures demonstrated a higher present value of the landscape resulting from the let-burn management choice. Size of the current fire was the most important characteristics of a given sample pathway in determining the magnitude of the change in future suppression costs. As the size of the current fire increased, the benefit from the sample pathway also increased.
In the future, this analysis can be used as a framework for exploring questions pertaining to the use of weather, fuel, and ignition characteristics of current fires to determine when an ignition should be suppressed, and when it might be advantageous to let a fire burn.