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

Implications of changing climate for global wildland fire

Mike D. Flannigan A C , Meg A. Krawchuk B , William J. de Groot A , B. Mike Wotton A and Lynn M. Gowman A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Great Lakes Forestry Centre, 1219 Queen Street-East, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, P6A 2E5, Canada.

B University of California, Berkeley, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, 335 Mulford Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.

C Corresponding author. Email:

International Journal of Wildland Fire 18(5) 483-507
Submitted: 18 November 2008  Accepted: 15 June 2009   Published: 10 August 2009


Wildland fire is a global phenomenon, and a result of interactions between climate–weather, fuels and people. Our climate is changing rapidly primarily through the release of greenhouse gases that may have profound and possibly unexpected impacts on global fire activity. The present paper reviews the current understanding of what the future may bring with respect to wildland fire and discusses future options for research and management. To date, research suggests a general increase in area burned and fire occurrence but there is a lot of spatial variability, with some areas of no change or even decreases in area burned and occurrence. Fire seasons are lengthening for temperate and boreal regions and this trend should continue in a warmer world. Future trends of fire severity and intensity are difficult to determine owing to the complex and non-linear interactions between weather, vegetation and people. Improved fire data are required along with continued global studies that dynamically include weather, vegetation, people, and other disturbances. Lastly, we need more research on the role of policy, practices and human behaviour because most of the global fire activity is directly attributable to people.

Additional keywords: area burned, carbon, emissions, fire activity, forest fire, intensity, management, modelling, occurrence, review, season, severity, weather.


We would like to gratefully acknowledge Florent Mouillot for the contribution of data to produce Fig. 3. We would also like to thank Ivan Csiszar and Minnie Wong for providing Fig. 2, and Alan Cantin for assistance with compiling data.


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1 The term ‘fire severity’ is used in different ways in the published literature. Here, it is defined as a component of the fire regime: indicating depth of burn or fuel consumption of the ground layer.

2 The number of fires and difficulty in controlling those fires is generally indicated here by the term ‘fire load’.