International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Contribution of human and biophysical factors to the spatial distribution of forest fire ignitions and large wildfires in a French Mediterranean region

Julien Ruffault A B C D E and Florent Mouillot A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A CEFE, UMR 5175, CNRS-Université de Montpellier-Université Paul Valéry Montpellier, EPHE-IRD, 1919 route de Mende, F-34293 Montpellier, France.

B CEREGE, Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, IRD, Technopôle de l’Arbois-Méditerranée, BP80, F-13545 Aix en Provence cedex 4, France.

C IRSTEA, UR RECOVER, 3275 route Cézanne, CS 40061, F-13182 Aix-en-Provence cedex 5, France.

D IMBE, Aix Marseille University, CNRS, IRD, Avignon Université, CS 80249, Case 4, F-13331 Marseille cedex 03, France.

E Corresponding author. Email: julien.ruff@gmail.com

International Journal of Wildland Fire 26(6) 498-508 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF16181
Submitted: 29 September 2016  Accepted: 10 March 2017   Published: 12 May 2017

Abstract

Identifying the factors that drive the spatial distribution of fires is one of the most challenging issues facing fire science in a changing world. We investigated the relative influence of humans, land cover and weather on the regional distribution of fires in a Mediterranean region using boosted regression trees and a set of seven explanatory variables. The spatial pattern of fire weather, which is seldom accounted for in regional models, was estimated using a semi-mechanistic approach and expressed as the length of the fire weather season. We found that the drivers of the spatial distribution of fires followed a fire size-dependent pattern in which human activities and settlements mainly determined the distribution of all fires whereas the continuity and type of fuels mainly controlled the location of the largest fires. The spatial structure of fire weather was estimated to be responsible for an average of 25% of the spatial patterns of fires, suggesting that climate change may directly affect the spatial patterns of fire hazard in the near future. These results enhance our understanding of long-term controls of the spatial distribution of wildfires and predictive maps of fire hazard provide useful information for fire management actions.

Additional keywords: anthropogenic influence, fire regime, fire weather, Mediterranean forests, southern France, shrublands, wildland–urban interface.


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