American Society of Civil Engineers

Curve Number and Peakflow Responses Following the Cerro Grande Fire on a Small Watershed

by Everett P. Springer, (Atmospheric, Climate and Environmental Dynamics Group, MS J495, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM 87545 E-mail: and Richard H. Hawkins, (School of Natural Resources, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721 E-mail:
Section: Fire 1, pp. 1-12, (doi:

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Document type: Conference Proceeding Paper
Part of: Managing Watersheds for Human and Natural Impacts: Engineering, Ecological, and Economic Challenges
Abstract: The Curve Number (CN) method is routinely used to estimate runoff and peakflows following forest fires, but there has been essentially no literature on the estimated value and temporal variation of CNs following wildland fires. In May 2000, the Cerro Grande Fire burned the headwaters of the major watersheds that cross Los Alamos National Laboratory, and a stream gauging network presented an opportunity to assess CNs following the fire. Analysis of rainfall-runoff events indicated that the pre-fire watershed response was complacent or limited watershed area contributed to runoff. The post-fire response indicated that the complacent behavior continued so the watershed response was not dramatically changed. Peakflows did increase by 2 orders of magnitude following the fire, and this was hypothesized to be a function of increase in runoff volume and changes in watershed network allowing more efficient delivery of runoff. More observations and analyses following fires are needed to support definition of CNs for post-fire response and mitigation efforts.

ASCE Subject Headings:
Peak flow
Runoff curve number