For background information and additional context, see our Tree Mortality and Fire page.
Wildfire is a primary cause of tree mortality in California and across the West. A recent paper by Hicke et al. (2015) determined that California had more area of fire-killed trees than any state in the western United States, and other studies have documented an increasing proportion of high-severity fire across large swaths of California forestlands (Miller et al. 2009). Increasing fire severities are especially prevalent in low-elevation forests in the Sierra Nevada and other similar regions, which are adapted to frequent, low-intensity fires and have undergone major changes as a result of fire exclusion (Mallek et al. 2013). Severe wildfires can result in large patches of standing dead trees, and can affect future fire risk in the same ways that bark beetles and other disturbances do. For more information on fire severity and tree mortality:
Miller, J.D., Safford, H.D., Crimmins, M. and Thode, A.E., 2009. Quantitative evidence for increasing forest fire severity in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Mountains, California and Nevada, USA. Ecosystems, 12(1), pp.16-32. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Andrea_Thode/publication/43283115_Quantitative_Evidence_for_Increasing_Forest_Fire_Severity_in_the_Sierra_Nevada_and_Southern_Cascade_Mountains_California_and_Nevada_USA/links/0046351fc01d5b8ceb000000.pdf
Hicke, J.A., Meddens, A.J. and Kolden, C.A., 2015. Recent Tree Mortality in the Western United States from Bark Beetles and Forest Fires. Forest Science. http://www.pyrogeographer.com/uploads/1/6/4/8/16481944/hicke_etal_2015_forsci.pdf
Mallek, C., Safford, H., Viers, J. and Miller, J., 2013. Modern departures in fire severity and area vary by forest type, Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades, California, USA. Ecosphere, 4(12), pp.1-28. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1890/ES13-00217.1/full