Articles | Volume 14, issue 1
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 14, 53–66, 2014
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 14, 53–66, 2014

Research article 07 Jan 2014

Research article | 07 Jan 2014

Assessing the predictability of fire occurrence and area burned across phytoclimatic regions in Spain

J. Bedia1, S. Herrera1, and J. M. Gutiérrez2 J. Bedia et al.
  • 1Grupo de Meteorología, Dpto. Matemática Aplicada y Ciencias de la Computación, Universidad de Cantabria, Avda. Los Castros s/n, 39005 Santander, Spain
  • 2Grupo de Meteorologíia, Instituto de Física de Cantabria, CSIC-Universidad de Cantabria, 39005 Santander, Spain

Abstract. Most fire protection agencies throughout the world have developed forest fire risk forecast systems, usually building upon existing fire danger indices and meteorological forecast data. In this context, the daily predictability of wildfires is of utmost importance in order to allow the fire protection agencies to issue timely fire hazard alerts. In this study, we address the predictability of daily fire occurrence using the components of the Canadian Fire Weather Index (FWI) System and related variables calculated from the latest ECMWF (European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts) reanalysis, ERA-Interim. We develop daily fire occurrence models in peninsular Spain for the period 1990–2008 and, considering different minimum burned area thresholds for fire definition, assess their ability to reproduce the inter-annual fire frequency variability. We based the analysis on a phytoclimatic classification aiming the stratification of the territory into homogeneous units in terms of climatic and fuel type characteristics, allowing to test model performance under different climate/fuel conditions. We then extend the analysis in order to assess the predictability of monthly burned areas. The sensitivity of the models to the level of spatial aggregation of the data is also evaluated. Additionally, we investigate the gain in model performance with the inclusion of socioeconomic and land use/land cover (LULC) covariates in model formulation.

Fire occurrence models have attained good performance in most of the phytoclimatic zones considered, being able to faithfully reproduce the inter-annual variability of fire frequency. Total area burned has exhibited some dependence on the meteorological drivers, although model performance was poor in most cases. We identified temperature and some FWI system components as the most important explanatory variables, highlighting the adequacy of the FWI system for fire occurrence prediction in the study area. The results were improved when using aggregated data across regions compared to when data were sampled at the grid-box level. The inclusion of socioeconomic and LULC covariates contributed marginally to the improvement of the models, and in most cases attained no relevant contribution to total explained variance – excepting northern Spain, where anthropogenic factors are known to be the major driver of fires. Models of monthly fire counts performed better in the case of fires larger than 0.1 ha, and for the rest of the thresholds (1, 10 and 100 ha) the daily occurrence models improved the predicted inter-annual variability, indicating the added value of daily models.

Fire frequency predictions may provide a preferable basis for past fire history reconstruction, long-term monitoring and the assessment of future climate impacts on fire regimes across regions, posing several advantages over burned area as a response variable. Our results leave the door open to the development a more complex modelling framework based on daily data from numerical climate model outputs based on the FWI system.

Final-revised paper