Wildfire risk associated with different vegetation types within and outside wildland-urban interfaces

TitleWildfire risk associated with different vegetation types within and outside wildland-urban interfaces
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsCalviño-Cancela, M
Secondary AuthorsChas-Amil, ML
Tertiary AuthorsGarcía-Martínez, ED
Subsidiary AuthorsTouza, J
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Start Page1
Keywordsforest fires, Human-related causes, Land uses, Spain, technical reports and journal articles, wildfire risk, wildland-urban interface

Wildland-urban interfaces (WUIs) are areas where urban settlements and wildland vegetation intermingle, making the interaction between human activities and wildlife especially intense. Their relevance is increasing worldwide as they are expanding and are associated with fire risk. The WUI may affect the fire risk associated with the type of vegetation (land cover/land use; LULC), a well-known risk factor, due to differences in the type and intensity of human activities in different LULCs within and outside WUIs. No previous studies analyse this interaction between the effects of the WUI and the LULC, despite its importance for understanding the patterns of fire risk, an essential prerequisite to undertake management decisions that can influence fire regimes.

The aim of this study is to assess the effect of the WUI on fire ignition risk and the area burned, and the interaction between its effect and that of the LULC. We used a database of 26,838 wildfires recorded in 2006–2011 in NW Spain and compared fire patterns in relation to WUI and LULC with a random model, using a Montecarlo approach.

There was a clear effect of the WUI on the risk of both fire ignition and spread (higher ignition risk but lower risk of spread in WUIs). The risk of fire was also affected by LULC and, interestingly, the pattern among LULCs differed between WUI and non-WUI areas. This interaction WUI × LULC was particularly important for forestry plantations, which showed the highest increase in ignition risk in WUI compared to non-WUI areas. Native forests and agricultural areas had the lowest ignition risk. Agricultural areas showed the smallest difference in fire size between WUI and non-WUI areas, while shrublands showed much larger fires outside WUIs. Deliberate fires were larger in general than those with other causes, especially outside the WUI.

The differences found between LULCs in fire risk, both in WUI and non-WUI areas, have interesting implications for fire management. Promotion of land covers with low fire risk should be considered as a low cost alternative to the usual fire prevention measures based on fuel load reduction, which require the continuous clearing of vegetation. In this regard, the low fire risk in native forests should be taken into account. Native forests naturally colonize many areas in the study region and require low or no management, in contrast with agricultural areas, also with low fire risk but requiring continuous management in order to avoid colonization by natural vegetation.