Evaluation of wildfire patterns at the wildland-urban fringe across the continental U.S.
Friday, 19 December 2014
Wildfires threaten ecosystems and urban development across the United States, posing significant implications for land management and natural processes such as watershed hydrology. This study investigates the spatial association between large wildfires and urbanization. Several geospatial dataset are combined to map wildfires (Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity for 1984 to 2012) and housing density (SILVIS Lab Spatial Analysis for Conservation and Sustainability decadal housing density for 1940 to 2030) relative to natural wildlands across the contiguous U.S. Several buffers (i.e. 25 km) are developed around wildlands (Protected Areas Database of the United States) to quantify the change and relationship in spatial fire and housing density patterns. Since 1984, wildfire behavior is cyclical and follows general climatology, where warmer years have more and larger fires. Ignition locations also follow transportation corridors and development which provide easy accessibility to wildlands. In California, both fire frequency and total acres burned exhibit increasing trends (statistically significant at 95%). The 1980s average wildfire frequency and total acres burned was 3100 fires and approximately 1200 km2, respectively. These numbers have increased to 2200 fires and over 1500 km2 in the 2010 to 2012 period alone. Initial observations also show that decennial population and area burned for four major Californian counties (Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Shasta) show strong correlation between the last decade of burned area, urban-fringe proximity, and urbanization trends. Improving our understanding of human induced wildfire regimes provides key information on urban fringe communities most vulnerable to the wildfire risks and can help inform regional development planning.