Laser-induced damage initiation in silica has been shown to follow a power-law behavior with respect to pulse-length. Models based on thermal diffusion physics can successfully predict this scaling and the effect of pulse shape for pulses between about 3ns and 10ns. In this work we use sophisticated new measurement techniques and novel pulse shape experiments to test the limits of this scaling. We show that simple pulse length scaling fails for pulses below about 3ns. Furthermore, double pulse initiation experiments suggest that energy absorbed by the first pulse is lost on time scales much shorter than would be predicted for thermal diffusion. This time scale for energy loss can be strongly modulated by maintaining a small but non-zero intensity between the pulses. By producing damage with various pulse shapes and pulse trains it is demonstrated that the properties of any hypothetical thermal absorber become highly constrained.© (2008) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.