Abstract Through the alteration of the physical characteristics of a landscape, such as the destruction of vegetation and the formation of a hydrophobic layer, a fire can dramatically amplify erosion rates. On the basis of field observations, it has been proposed that the deposition of a layer of ash on the ground surface can enhance the erosion of mountainous terrain by surface runoff and might even be a necessary condition for the generation of progressively bulked debris flows. In this study, a flume was constructed to investigate the role of ash in increasing both the volume and the transport capacity of runoff. The experiments demonstrated that the presence of ash on the soil surface reduces the ability of flowing water to infiltrate; this effect is even greater when the ash has been pre-wetted. In addition, the ability of ash slurries to infiltrate decreases with increasing ash concentration. The results also indicate that the transport capacity of runoff is enhanced by the incorporation of ash into the flow because of the increased fluid density. However, the addition of ash reduces the boundary Reynolds number such that, at high ash concentrations and with fine-grained sediment, sediment transport declines as the flow becomes hydraulically smooth. The experimental results were also used to evaluate the ability of steep flow fronts, a common characteristic of debris flows and flash floods, to increase sediment transport rates. Finally, it is proposed that ash slurries may evolve into progressively bulked debris flows through a positive feedback between fluid density, transport capacity, and erosivity.