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

What do we know about forest fire size distribution, and why is this knowledge useful for forest management?

Wenbin Cui A B and Ajith H. Perera A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Ontario Forest Research Institute, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 1235 Queen Street E, Sault Ste. Marie, ON P6A 2E5, Canada.

B Corresponding author. Email:

International Journal of Wildland Fire 17(2) 234-244
Submitted: 9 November 2006  Accepted: 17 September 2007   Published: 18 April 2008


Forest fire size distribution (FSD) is one of the suite of indicators of forest fire regimes. It is applied in forest fire management, particularly for planning and evaluating suppression efforts. It is also used in forest management in the context of emulating natural fire disturbances. Given the recent growth in research and applied interest in this topic, we review and synthesise the state of knowledge on FSD, and identify sources of knowledge uncertainties and future research directions. Based on literature, it is common for forest fires to follow the power law probability distribution, particularly the truncated subtype, under a variety of forest types and forest and fire management practices. Other types of FSD are also observed, but under specific circumstances. Although there is evidence that observed FSDs vary both over space and time, the knowledge is too fragmented to generalise the cause–effect relationships for such variation. As well, it is not clear how the various methods of studying FSD and their spatio-temporal scales influence derivations of FSDs. We suggest that a hypothetico-deductive research approach, combining empirical studies with process-based simulations is an effective means to advance the knowledge of FSD. We suggest caution in the use of FSD in forest management because applying different distributions or even different parameters for the same distribution may result in great fire size class differences and thus different implications for forest management.

Additional keywords: emulating forest disturbances, fire management, number of fires, power law, self-organisation.


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