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

Southern African fire regimes as revealed by remote sensing

S. Archibald A B F , R. J. Scholes A B , D. P. Roy C , G. Roberts D and L. Boschetti E
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Natural Resources and the Environment, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, PO Box 395, Pretoria 0001, South Africa.

B Animal Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, Johannesburg 2050, South Africa.

C Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD 57007, USA.

D King’s College London, Environmental Monitoring and Modelling Research Group, Department of Geography, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS, UK.

E Department of Geography, University of Maryland, 2181 LeFrak Hall, College Park, MD 20740, USA.

F Corresponding author. Email: sarchibald@csir.co.za

International Journal of Wildland Fire 19(7) 861-878 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF10008
Submitted: 8 January 2010  Accepted: 21 April 2010   Published: 5 November 2010

Abstract

Here we integrate spatial information on annual burnt area, fire frequency, fire seasonality, fire radiative power and fire size distributions to produce an integrated picture of fire regimes in southern Africa. The regional patterns are related to gradients of environmental and human controls of fire, and compared with findings from other grass-fuelled fire systems on the globe. The fire regime differs across a gradient of human land use intensity, and can be explained by the differential effect of humans on ignition frequencies and fire spread. Contrary to findings in the savannas of Australia, there is no obvious increase in fire size or fire intensity from the early to the late fire season in southern Africa, presumably because patterns of fire ignition are very different. Similarly, the importance of very large fires in driving the total annual area burnt is not obvious in southern Africa. These results point to the substantial effect that human activities can have on fire in a system with high rural population densities and active fire management. Not all aspects of a fire regime are equally impacted by people: fire-return time and fire radiative power show less response to human activities than fire size and annual burned area.

Additional keywords: burnt area, fire frequency, fire radiative power, fire size, human land use, ignition frequency, vegetation type.


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