Ideas for Teaching

Megafires: Rare Events or the New Norm?

Catastrophic 'mega-fires' are creating headlines throughout the world. These fire events are reported to be larger and more destructive than ever recorded before and media reports suggest they typify fires of the future. In a seminar held at Montana State University in 2013, students examined the science behind the outbreak of large and intense 'mega-fires' in the western US, Australia, Russia, Indonesia and elsewhere. Students will investigated what caused these fires, why they are showing up in headlines around the world and evaluated claims that these fires are unprecedented. The result of this seminar is a set of case studies which provide an in-depth examination of what causes large fires, how these events are changing over time, their impacts, and where megafires are becoming increasingly evident. Case study topics include:


Vignettes are stand-alone, illustrated electronic case studies that teach about geomorphology, surface processes, and/or Quaternary history. They are short, place-based examples that allow instructors to customize their class' approach to learning. Click here to browse the full collection of Vignettes.

A Case Study: Geomorphic Effects of the 2009 Big Pole Fire, Skull Valley, UT
On August 6, 2009, a lightning strike caused the Big Pole Fire to break out in Skull Valley on private and Federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, and the State of Utah. The ~43,923 acre fire affected the western Stansbury Mountains, located about 40 miles west of Salt Lake City, in Utah. This fire event provides a valuable opportunity to observe changes in the local semi-arid ecosystem and landscape.

The Sandstone Pavement Pine Barren of Northeastern New York: A legacy of Fire and Ice
The physical environment of the sandstone pavements strongly influences vegetation distribution and ecosystem processes; such as surface water runoff, organic matter decomposition and nutrient cycling; and the effects of ecological disturbances such as wildfires and ice storms.

Wildfires, Floods, and Sediment Delivery at the Wilderness-Urban Interface in Coastal Southern California
Wildfires pose recurrent, news-making threats to life, property and livelihood throughout the arid American West. They often also contribute substantially to hillslope erosion and flooding by increasing runoff and destabilizing slopes against natural erosive processes such as dry ravel, rainsplash, sheetwash, gullying and shallow landsliding.

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