Large fires in wilderness areas
Document Type: Conference Paper
Author(s): J. W. van Wagtendonk
Coordinator(s): J. K. Brown; R. W. Mutch; C. W. Weatherspoon; R. H. Wakimoto
Publication Year: 1995

Cataloging Information

  • Abies concolor
  • Abies magnifica
  • charcoal
  • coniferous forests
  • cutting
  • dendrochronology
  • ecosystem dynamics
  • fire frequency
  • fire management
  • fire scar analysis
  • fire size
  • forest management
  • lightning caused fires
  • Montana
  • national parks
  • Pinus albicaulis
  • Pinus contorta
  • Pinus jeffreyi
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • prescribed fires (chance ignition)
  • prescribed fires (escaped)
  • Sequoiadendron giganteum
  • Sierra Nevada
  • vegetation surveys
  • wilderness areas
  • wildfires
  • Wyoming
  • Yosemite National Park
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: August 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 47954
Tall Timbers Record Number: 23988
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: A13.88:INT-320
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


To trully allow fires to play their natural role in wilderness ecosystems, it is sometimes necessary to have large fires of long duration. Large fires are ecologically significant events that drive many other ecosystem processes. However, these fires pose significant management concerns. As a result, managers may limit the opportunity for fires to play their natural role. Risk of escape out of prescribed natural fire zones, endangerment of human life and structures, and smoke are all concerns that must be addressed before fires are allowed to grow large. Experience in California has shown that smoke is the most frequent limiting factor, while fire escape and public safety have been important issues in Wyoming and Montana. A decision to limit the size or duration of natural fires is a decision to alter natural ecosystem function. Such a decision must be made with the best information available about possible ramifications.

van Wagtendonk, J. W. 1995. Large fires in wilderness areas, in Brown, J. K., Mutch, R. W., Spoon, C. W., and Wakimoto, R. H., Proceedings: symposium on fire in wilderness and park management. Missoula, MT. USDA Forest Service, Internountain Research Station,Ogden, UT. p. 113-116,General Technical Report INT-GTR-320.