In boreal ecosystems, wildfire severity (i.e., the extent of fire-related tree mortality) is affected by environmental conditions and fire intensity. A burned area usually includes tree patches that partially or entirely escaped fire. There are two types of post-fire residual patches: (1) patches that only escaped the last fire; and (2) patches with lower fire susceptibility, also called fire refuges, that escaped several consecutive fires, likely due to particular site characteristics. The main objective of this study was to test if particular environmental conditions and stand characteristics could explain the presence of fire refuges in the mixedwood boreal forest. The FlamMap3 fire behavior model running at the landscape scale was used on the present-day Lake Duparquet forest mosaic and on four other experimental scenarios. FlamMap3 was first calibrated using BehavePlus and realistic rates of fire spread obtained from the Canadian Fire Behavior Prediction system. The results, based on thousands of runs, exclude the effects of firebreaks, topography, fuel type, and microtopography to explain the presence of fire refuges, but rather highlight the important role of moisture conditions in the fuel beds. Moist conditions are likely attributed to former small depressions having been filled with organic matter rather than present-day variations in ground surface topography.
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