Fire regimes are ultimately controlled by wildland fuel dynamics over space and time; spatial distributions of fuel influence the size, spread, and intensity of individual fires, while the temporal distribution of fuel deposition influences fire’s frequency and controls fire size. These “shifting fuel mosaics” are both a cause and a consequence of fire regimes. This paper synthesizes results from two major fuel dynamics studies that described the spatial and temporal variability of canopy and surface wildland fuel characteristics found in US northern Rocky Mountain forests. Eight major surface fuel components—four downed dead woody fuel size classes (1, 10, 100, 1000 h), duff, litter, shrub, and herb—and three canopy fuel characteristics—loading, bulk density and cover—were studied. Properties of these fuel types were sampled on nested plots located within sampling grids to describe their variability across spatiotemporal scales. Important findings were that fuel component loadings were highly variable (two to three times the mean), and this variability increased with the size of fuel particles. The spatial variability of loadings also varied by spatial scale with fine fuels (duff, litter, 1 h, 10 h) varying at scales of 1 to 5 m; coarse fuels at 10 to 150 m, and canopy fuels at 100 to 600 m. Fine fuels are more uniformly distributed over both time and space and decayed quickly, while large fuels are rare on the landscape but have a high residence time.
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