Sand and fire: applying the sandpile model of self-organised criticality to wildfire mitigation

TitleSand and fire: applying the sandpile model of self-organised criticality to wildfire mitigation
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsGang, JE, Jia, W, Herniter, IA
JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
Date Published08/2022
KeywordsCalifornia, fire management, Florida, Georgia, prescribed burn, sandpile model, self-organised criticality, technical reports and journal articles, wildfire

Background: Prescribed burns have been increasingly utilised in forest management in the past few decades. However, their effectiveness in reducing the risk of destructive wildfires has been debated. The sandpile model of self-organised criticality, first proposed to model natural hazards, has been recently applied to wildfire research for describing a negative linear relationship between the logarithm of fire size, in area burned, and the logarithm of fire incidence number of that size.

Aims: We demonstrate the applicability of the sandpile model to an understanding of wildfire incidence and its trend with interested factors, such as prescribed burns.

Methods: We leverage the sandpile model to perform a series of simulations, along with comparisons to historical wildfire data in three American states: Florida, California, and Georgia.

Key results: Both simulated and historical data indicate that increased prescribed burning is associated with lowered incidence of large wildfires.

Conclusions: Our study justifies the application of the sandpile model to wildfire research and establishes a novel method for facilitating the investigation of potential risk factors of wildfires.

Implications: The sandpile model may be utilised for the development of optimal strategies for prescribed burning. An R-script for sandpile model simulation is available for further wildfire investigation.