The drivers of wildfire enlargement do not exhibit scale thresholds in southeastern Australian forests



Publication Details

Price, O. F., Penman, T., Bradstock, R. & Borah, R. (2016). The drivers of wildfire enlargement do not exhibit scale thresholds in southeastern Australian forests. Journal of Environmental Management, 181 208-217.


Wildfires are complex adaptive systems, and have been hypothesized to exhibit scale-dependent transitions in the drivers of fire spread. Among other things, this makes the prediction of final fire size from conditions at the ignition difficult. We test this hypothesis by conducting a multi-scale statistical modelling of the factors determining whether fires reached 10 ha, then 100 ha then 1000 ha and the final size of fires >1000 ha. At each stage, the predictors were measures of weather, fuels, topography and fire suppression. The objectives were to identify differences among the models indicative of scale transitions, assess the accuracy of the multi-step method for predicting fire size (compared to predicting final size from initial conditions) and to quantify the importance of the predictors. The data were 1116 fires that occurred in the eucalypt forests of New South Wales between 1985 and 2010. The models were similar at the different scales, though there were subtle differences. For example, the presence of roads affected whether fires reached 10 ha but not larger scales. Weather was the most important predictor overall, though fuel load, topography and ease of suppression all showed effects. Overall, there was no evidence that fires have scale-dependent transitions in behaviour. The models had a predictive accuracy of 73%, 66%, 72% and 53% accuracy at 10 ha, 100 ha, 1000 ha and final size scales. When these steps were combined, the overall accuracy for predicting the size of fires was 62%, while the accuracy of the one step model was only 20%. Thus, the multi-scale approach was an improvement on the single scale approach, even though the predictive accuracy was probably insufficient for use as an operational tool. The analysis has also provided further evidence of the important role of weather, compared to fuel, suppression and topography in driving fire behaviour.

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