Human-ignited wildfire patterns and responses to policy shifts

Marisa Chas-Amil, Jeffrey P Prestemon, Colin John McClean, Julia M. Touza

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Development of efficient forest wildfire policies requires an understanding of the underlying reasons behind forest fire occurrences. Globally, there is a close relationship between forest wildfires and human activities; most wildfires are human events due to negligence (e.g., agricultural burning escapes) and deliberate actions (e.g., vandalism, pyromania, revenge, land use change attempts). We model the risk of wildfire as a function of the spatial pattern of urban development and the abandonment/intensity of agricultural and forestry activities, while controlling for biophysical and climatic factors. We use a count data approach to model deliberately set fires in Galicia, N.W. Spain, where wildfire is a significant threat to forest ecosystems, with nearly 100,000 wildfires recorded during a thirteen-year period (1999-2011). The spatial units of analysis are more than 3600 parishes. Data for the human influences are derived from fine-resolution maps of the wildland-urban interface (WUI), housing spatial arrangements, road density, forest ownership, and vegetation type. We found wildfire risk to be higher where there are human populations and development/urbanisation pressure, as well as in unattended forest areas due to both rural exodus and a fragmented forest ownership structure that complicates the profitability of forestry practices. To better help direct management efforts, parameter estimates from our model were used to predict wildfire counts under alternative scenarios that account for variation across space on future land-use conditions. Policies that incentivize cooperative forest management and that constrain urban development in wildlands at hotspot fire locations are shown to reduce wildfire risk. Our results highlight the need for spatially targeted fire management strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-176
Number of pages13
JournalApplied Geography
Early online date18 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


  • wildfire risk
  • deliberate-caused fires
  • spatial distribution
  • urban development pressure
  • wildland-urban interface

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