High tree mortality due to drought and insects often is assumed to increase fire severity once ignition occurs. In 2002-2003, coniferous forests in the San Bernardino Mountains, California experienced a significant tree mortality event due to drought and an outbreak of western pine beetles (Dendroctonus brevicomis). In October 2003, fire burned approximately 5,860 ha of conifer forest types in many beetle- and drought-affected stands where most pre-fire dead trees had retained needles. We used pre- and post-fire GIS data to examine how fire severity was affected by pre-fire tree mortality, vegetation characteristics, and topography. We found no evidence that pre-fire tree mortality influenced fire severity. These results indicate that widespread removal of dead trees may not effectively reduce higher-severity fire in southern California’s conifer forests. We found that sample locations dominated by the largest size class of trees (≥61 cm diameter at breast height (dbh)) burned at lower severities than locations dominated by trees 28-60 cm dbh. This result suggests that harvesting larger-sized trees for fire-severity reduction purposes is likely to be ineffective and possibly counter-productive.