Skip to main content

  MyEnvironment Inc / Work / Fire / Fire Resources / Fire intensity, fire severity and burn severity: a brief review and suggested usage  

Fire intensity, fire severity and burn severity: a brief review and suggested usage

Jon E. Keeley
A US Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Sequoia – Kings Canyon Field Station, 47050 Generals Highway, Three Rivers, CA 93271, USA.
B Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA. Email:


Several recent papers have suggested replacing the terminology of fire intensity and fire severity. Part of the problem with fire intensity is that it is sometimes used incorrectly to describe fire effects, when in fact it is justifiably restricted to measures of energy output. Increasingly, the term has created confusion because some authors have restricted its usage to a single measure of energy output referred to as fireline intensity. This metric is most useful in understanding fire behavior in forests, but is too narrow to fully capture the multitude of ways fire energy affects ecosystems. Fire intensity represents the energy released during various phases of a fire, and different metrics such as reaction intensity, fireline intensity, temperature, heating duration and radiant energy are useful for different purposes. Fire severity, and the related term burn severity, have created considerable confusion because of recent changes in their usage. Some authors have justified this by contending that fire severity is defined broadly as ecosystem impacts from fire and thus is open to individual interpretation. However, empirical studies have defined fire severity operationally as the loss of or change in organic matter aboveground and belowground, although the precise metric varies with management needs. Confusion arises because fire or burn severity is sometimes defined so that it also includes ecosystem responses. Ecosystem responses include soil erosion, vegetation regeneration, restoration of community structure, faunal recolonization, and a plethora of related response variables. Although some ecosystem responses are correlated with measures of fire or burn severity, many important ecosystem processes have either not been demonstrated to be predicted by severity indices or have been shown in some vegetation types to be unrelated to severity. This is a critical issue because fire or burn severity are readily measurable parameters, both on the ground and with remote sensing, yet ecosystem responses are of most interest to resource managers.

Keywords: BAER, dNBR Landsat Thematic Mapper, soil burn severity.
International Journal of Wildland Fire 18(1) 116–126
Submitted: 15 March 2007 Accepted: 15 April 2008 Published: 17 February 2009
Full text DOI: 10.1071/WF07049
© IAWF 2009

Volume 18(1) 2009

Read More



Last item is an Australina Author and of most interest:



Descriptive Table of Contents
PDF (106 KB)
Improving estimates of savanna burning emissions for greenhouse accounting in northern Australia: limitations, challenges, applications
Jeremy Russell-Smith, Brett P. Murphy, C. P. (Mick) Meyer, Garry D. Cook, Stefan Maier, Andrew C. Edwards, Jon Schatz and Peter Brocklehurst
Modeling fire danger in data-poor regions: a case study from the Russian Far East
Tatiana V. Loboda
Regional-scale weather patterns and wildland fires in central Portugal
Klaus P. Hoinka, Anabela Carvalho and Ana Isabel Miranda
The importance of fire–atmosphere coupling and boundary-layer turbulence to wildfire spread
Ruiyu Sun, Steven K. Krueger, Mary Ann Jenkins, Michael A. Zulauf and Joseph J. Charney
Frequency and season of fires varies with distance from settlement and grass composition in Eucalyptus miniata savannas of the Darwin region of northern Australia
Louis P. Elliott, Donald C. Franklin and David M. J. S. Bowman
Construction of empirical models for predicting Pinus sp. dead fine fuel moisture in NW Spain. I: Response to changes in temperature and relative humidity
Ana Daría Ruiz González, Jose Antonio Vega Hidalgo and Juan Gabriel Álvarez González
What factors influence rapid post-fire site re-occupancy? A case study of the endangered Eastern Bristlebird in eastern Australia
David B. Lindenmayer, Chris MacGregor, Jeff T. Wood, Ross B. Cunningham, Mason Crane, Damian Michael, Rebecca Montague-Drake, Darren Brown, Martin Fortescue, Nick Dexter, Matt Hudson and A. Malcolm Gill
Synthesis of sediment yields after wildland fire in different rainfall regimes in the western United States
John A. Moody and Deborah A. Martin
Fire intensity, fire severity and burn severity: a brief review and suggested usage
Jon E. Keeley

Subscribe to International Journal of Wildland Fire

Related Journals

Australian Journal of Botany
The Rangeland Journal
Wildlife Research


Log in or create a user account to comment.