DOI: 10.3390/fire7020052 ISSN: 2571-6255

Sediment Response after Wildfires in Mountain Streams and Their Effects on Cultural Heritage: The Case of the 2021 Navalacruz Wildfire (Avila, Spain)

Jose A. Ortega-Becerril, Clara Suarez, Daniel Vázquez-Tarrío, Julio Garrote, Miguel Gomez-Heras
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Safety Research
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Building and Construction
  • Forestry

The 2021 Navalacruz wildfire occurred in a mountainous area in the Sistema Central (Spain). Despite having an average low severity index (dNBR), the loss of vegetation cover associated with the fire was responsible for a high rate of sedimentation in the rivers and streams. Additionally, the burned area affected up to 60 cultural heritage sites, including archaeological and ethnological sites, and damage ranged from burnt pieces of wood to the burial of archaeological sites. In the present work, we document and analyze the post-fire evolution in several rivers and streams. This is based on a field survey of infiltration rates, hydrodynamic modeling, and the study of channel morphological changes. Our analysis revealed how the first post-fire rains caused the mobilization and transport of ashes. This created hydrophobicity in the soils, resulting in large amounts of materials being transported to rivers and streams by subsequent medium- and low-magnitude storms. A hydrological and hydraulic model of the study catchments under pre- and post-fire conditions suggests that these trends are a consequence of a post-fire increase in flow rates for similar rainfall scenarios. In this respect, our estimates point at a significant increase in sediment transport capacities associated with this post-fire increase in flow rates. The combination of locally steep slopes with high-severity fire patches, and a considerable regolith (derived from pre-fire weathering), resulted in a series of cascading responses, such as an exacerbated supply of sand to the drainage network and the triggering of debris flows, followed by erosion and entrenchment.

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