Articles | Volume 13, issue 12
Research article
23 Dec 2013
Research article |  | 23 Dec 2013

The spatial domain of wildfire risk and response in the wildland urban interface in Sydney, Australia

O. F. Price and R. A. Bradstock

Abstract. In order to quantify the risks from fire at the wildland urban interface (WUI), it is important to understand where fires occur and their likelihood of spreading to the WUI. For each of the 999 fires in the Sydney region we calculated the distance between the ignition and the WUI, the fire's weather and wind direction and whether it spread to the WUI. The likelihood of burning the WUI was analysed using binomial regression. Weather and distance interacted such that under mild weather conditions, the model predicted only a 5% chance that a fire starting >2.5 km from the interface would reach it, whereas when the conditions are extreme the predicted chance remained above 30% even at distances >10 km. Fires were more likely to spread to the WUI if the wind was from the west and in the western side of the region. We examined whether the management responses to wildfires are commensurate with risk by comparing the distribution of distance to the WUI of wildfires with roads and prescribed fires. Prescribed fires and roads were concentrated nearer to the WUI than wildfires as a whole, but further away than wildfires that burnt the WUI under extreme weather conditions (high risk fires). Overall, 79% of these high risk fires started within 2 km of the WUI, so there is some argument for concentrating more management effort near the WUI. By substituting climate change scenario weather into the statistical model, we predicted a small increase in the risk of fires spreading to the WUI, but the increase will be greater under extreme weather. This approach has a variety of uses, including mapping fire risk and improving the ability to match fire management responses to the threat from each fire. They also provide a baseline from which a cost-benefit analysis of complementary fire management strategies can be conducted.

Final-revised paper