Rethinking infiltration in wildfire-affected soils

Hydrological Processes
By:  and 



Wildfires frequently result in natural hazards such as flash floods (Yates et al., 2001) and debris flows (Cannon et al., 2001a,b; Gabet and Sternberg, 2008). One of the principal causes of the increased risk of post-wildfire hydrologically driven hazards is reduced in filtration rates (e.g. Scott and van Wyk, 1990; Cerdà, 1998; Robichaud, 2000; Martin and Moody, 2001). Beyond the reduction in peak infiltration rate, there is mounting evidence that the fundamental physics of infiltration in wild fire-affected soils is different from unburned soils (e.g. Imeson et al., 1992; Moody et al., 2009; Moody and Ebel, 2012).

Understanding post-wildfire hydrology is critical given the increasing wildfire incidence in the western USA (Westerling et al., 2006) and elsewhere in the world (Kasischke and Turetsky, 2006; Holz and Veblen, 2011; Pausas and Fernández-Muñoz, 2012). Wildfire is a disturbance event with global distribution (Bowman et al., 2009; Krawchuk et al., 2009; Pechony and Shindell, 2010; Moritz et al., 2012), and with increasing populations moving into fire-prone areas, understanding post-wildfire infiltration is of increasing importance for predicting post-wildfire consequences. Runoff is generally controlled by the infiltration-excess mechanism in fire-affected soils (e.g. Mayor et al., 2007; Onda et al., 2008; Kinner and Moody, 2010). It is essential that the fire community have conceptual models, physical equations and tools (i.e. numerical models) to predict infiltration and thus excess rainfall (after Horton, 1933), which can provide estimates of peak discharge, start of runoff, time to peak and total runoff for hydroclimatic scenarios after wildfires. Reductions in saturated hydraulic conductivity Ksat [LT-1] are common for fire-affected soils, and the relatively low values observed explain the elevated flash flood hazards (e.g. Ksat of 1–100 mm h-1 , Robichaud, 2000; Yates et al., 2000; Martin and Moody, 2001; Robichaud et al., 2007; Moody et al., 2009; Neary, 2011; Nyman et al., 2011).

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Rethinking infiltration in wildfire-affected soils
Series title Hydrological Processes
DOI 10.1002/hyp.9696
Volume 27
Issue 10
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Central Branch
Description 5 p.
First page 1510
Last page 1514