Amplification of postwildfire peak flow by debris

J. W. Kean, L. A. McGuire, F. K. Rengers, J. B. Smith, D. M. Staley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


In burned steeplands, the peak depth and discharge of postwildfire runoff can substantially increase from the addition of debris. Yet methods to estimate the increase over water flow are lacking. We quantified the potential amplification of peak stage and discharge using video observations of postwildfire runoff, compiled data on postwildfire peak flow (Qp), and a physically based model. Comparison of flood and debris flow data with similar distributions in drainage area (A) and rainfall intensity (I) showed that the median runoff coefficient (C = Qp/AI) of debris flows is 50 times greater than that of floods. The striking increase in Qp can be explained using a fully predictive model that describes the additional flow resistance caused by the emergence of coarse-grained surge fronts. The model provides estimates of the amplification of peak depth, discharge, and shear stress needed for assessing postwildfire hazards and constraining models of bedrock incision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8545-8553
Number of pages9
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 28 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • debris flow
  • flood
  • peak flow
  • wildfire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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