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Controls on the spatial pattern of wildfire ignitions in Southern California

Published Web Location Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Wildfire ignition requires a combination of an open spark, and suitable weather and fuel conditions. Models of fire occurrence and burned area provide a good understanding of the physical and climatic factors that constrain and promote fire spread and recurrence, but information on how humans influence ignition patterns is still lacking at a scale compatible with integrated fire management. We investigated the relative importance of the physical, climatic and human factors regulating ignition probability across Southern California's National Forests. A 30-year exploratory analysis of one-way relationships indicated that distance to a road, distance to housing and topographic slope were the major determinants of ignition frequency. We used logistic and Poisson regression analyses to model ignition occurrence and frequency as a function of the dominant covariates. The resulting models explained ∼70% of the spatial variability in ignition likelihood and 45% of the variability in ignition frequency. In turn, predicted ignition probability contributed to some of the spatial variability in burned area, particularly for summer fires. These models may enable estimates of fire ignition risk for the broader domain of Southern California and how this risk may change with future population and housing development. Our spatially explicit predictions may also be useful for strategic fire management in the region.

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