In 1997-98, fires associated with an exceptional drought caused by the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) devastated large areas of tropical rain forests worldwide. Evidence suggests that in tropical rainforest environments selective logging may lead to an increased susceptibility of forests to fire. We investigated whether this was true in the Indonesian fires, the largest fire disaster ever observed. We performed a multiscale analysis using coarse- and high-resolution optical and radar satellite imagery assisted by ground and aerial surveys to assess the extent of the fire-damaged area and the effect on vegetation in East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. A total of 5.2 +/- 0.3 million hectares including 2.6 million hectares of forest was burned with varying degrees of damage. Forest fires primarily affected recently logged forests; primary forests or those logged long ago were less affected. These results support the hypothesis of positive feedback between logging and fire occurrence. The fires severely damaged the remaining forests and significantly increased the risk of recurrent fire disasters by leaving huge amounts of dead flammable wood.
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