Mapping regional patterns of large forest fires in Wildland-Urban Interface areas in Europe

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Abstract

Over recent decades, Land Use and Cover Change (LUCC) trends in many regions of Europe have reconfigured the landscape structures around many urban areas. In these areas, the proximity to landscape elements with high forest fuels has increased the fire risk to people and property. These Wildland-Urban Interface areas (WUI) can be defined as landscapes where anthropogenic urban land use and forest fuel mass come into contact. Mapping their extent is needed to prioritize fire risk control and inform local forest fire risk management strategies. This study proposes a method to map the extent and spatial patterns of the European WUI areas at continental scale. Using the European map of WUI areas, the hypothesis is tested that the distance from the nearest WUI area is related to the forest fire probability. Statistical relationships between the distance from the nearest WUI area, and large forest fire incidents from satellite remote sensing were subsequently modelled by logistic regression analysis. The first European scale map of the WUI extent and locations is presented. Country-specific positive and negative relationships of large fires and the proximity to the nearest WUI area are found. A regional-scale analysis shows a strong influence of the WUI zones on large fires in parts of the Mediterranean regions. Results indicate that the probability of large burned surfaces increases with diminishing WUI distance in touristic regions like Sardinia, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, or in regions with a strong peri-urban component as Catalunya, Comunidad de Madrid, Comunidad Valenciana. For the above regions, probability curves of large burned surfaces show statistical relationships (ROC value > 0.5) inside a 5000 m buffer of the nearest WUI. Wise land management can provide a valuable ecosystem service of fire risk reduction that is currently not explicitly included in ecosystem service valuations. The results re-emphasise the importance of including this ecosystem service in landscape valuations to account for the significant landscape function of reducing the risk of catastrophic large fires.

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Modugno, S., Balzter, H., Cole, B., & Borrelli, P. (2016). Mapping regional patterns of large forest fires in Wildland-Urban Interface areas in Europe. Journal of Environmental Management, 172, 112–126. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2016.02.013

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