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

Spatial variation of trends in wildfire and summer drought in British Columbia, Canada, 1920–2000

Andrea Meyn A E , Sebastian Schmidtlein B , Stephen W. Taylor C , Martin P. Girardin D , Kirsten Thonicke A and Wolfgang Cramer A

A Earth System Analysis, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) e.V., Telegraphenberg A62, PO Box 60 12 03, D-14412 Potsdam, Germany.

B Department of Geography, University of Bonn, D-53115 Bonn, Germany.

C Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Pacific Forestry Centre, 506 West Burnside Road, Victoria, BC, V8Z 1M5, Canada.

D Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Laurentian Forestry Centre, 1055 du PEPS, PO Box 10380, Stn. Sainte-Foy, Quebec, QC, G1V 4C7, Canada.

E Corresponding author. Email:

International Journal of Wildland Fire 19(3) 272-283
Submitted: 28 May 2009  Accepted: 5 December 2009   Published: 13 May 2010


Owing to large climatic and orographic variation, British Columbia covers a variety of ecosystems extending from temperate rainforests on the Pacific coast to boreal forests in the north-east. The aim of this study is to investigate the spatial variation of trends in wildfire activity and their relationship to summer drought for the entire province of British Columbia. Time series of annual wildfire extent and occurrence, summer self-calibrating Palmer Drought Severity Index and summer Aridity Index were derived from spatially explicit data. Sixteen landscape regions according to the provincial Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classification system served as spatial reference. The regional series for 1920–2000 were subjected to trend analysis. Correlations between area burned and summer drought were assessed and tested for significance. The observed decrease in wildfire activity is significantly related to wetter summers with the strength of the relationship considerably varying between British Columbia’s landscapes. Our results suggest that aggregated statistics for large regions with complex topography and climate can hide the spatial variation in direction and strength of changes and may accordingly obscure the relationship between fire and drought. Based on high-spatial-resolution data, our study is the first to provide a differentiated picture for British Columbia.

Additional keywords: area burned, Aridity Index, BEC, fire frequency, PDSI, self-calibrating PDSI.


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