2015 Southwest fire season

Fewer acres burned in wildfire in the Southwest in 2015 than the average for the preceding decade and most of the area burned at low severity. The snowpack from the 2014/2015 winter was below normal, but the El Niño pattern combined with other factors to drive a moist spring and minimize windy and dry conditions. Prescribed fires covered 120,066 acres or 37% of the total acres burned in 2015, the highest percentage of acres burned in the Southwest since 2003. In 2015, the largest 12 fires analyzed for this study burned 125,746 acres, or 62% of the total number of acres burned by wildfire in the Southwest in 2015 (204,256 acres). Managers used full suppression strategies on 11% and other strategies on 89% of the acres burned in fires over 100 acres in 2015. Fifteen percent of the acreage burned in the12 largest fires burned within the perimeter of recent fires (within the last 10 years). In addition to the three fires that burned in past fire perimeters, three other fires burned up to edge of past fires. Soil burn severity maps were only available for 34% of the acreage burned in large fires (24% of the total acreage). For the wildfires where soil burn severity maps were available, 13% of their footprint burned at high severity. For the wildfires where canopy mortality maps were available, 83% of the mapped canopy mortality was low (less than 25% mortality). The 12 largest fires of 2015 cost $9.4 million to manage and wildfires managed with strategies other than full suppression cost $73 per acre. Read the report here.