Publication Details

Collins, K. M., Penman, T. D. & Price, O. F. (2016). Some wildfire ignition causes pose more risk of destroying houses than others. PLoS One, 11 (9), e0162083-1-e0162083-18.


Many houses are at risk of being destroyed by wildfires. While previous studies have improved our understanding of how, when and why houses are destroyed by wildfires, little attention has been given to how these fires started. We compiled a dataset of wildfires that destroyed houses in New South Wales and Victoria and, by comparing against wildfires where no houses were destroyed, investigated the relationship between the distribution of ignition causes for wildfires that did and did not destroy houses. Powerlines, lightning and deliberate ignitions are the main causes of wildfires that destroyed houses. Powerlines were 6 times more common in the wildfires that destroyed houses data than in the wildfires where no houses were destroyed data and lightning was 2 times more common. For deliberate-and powerline-caused wildfires, temperature, wind speed, and forest fire danger index were all significantly higher and relative humidity significantly lower (P < 0.05) on the day of ignition for wildfires that destroyed houses compared with wildfires where no houses were destroyed. For all powerline-caused wildfires the first house destroyed always occurred on the day of ignition. In contrast, the first house destroyed was after the day of ignition for 78% of lightning-caused wildfires. Lightning-caused wildfires that destroyed houses were significantly larger (P < 0.001) in area than human-caused wildfires that destroyed houses. Our results suggest that targeting fire prevention strategies around ignition causes, such as improving powerline safety and targeted arson reduction programmes, and reducing fire spread may decrease the number of wildfires that destroy houses.



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