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Research article2019Peer reviewed

Wildfire ignition from forestry machines in boreal Sweden

Sjostrom, Johan; Plathner, Frida Vermina; Granstrom, Anders


Several large Swedish wildfires during recent decades were caused by forestry machinery in operation, fires for which there is still no characterisation. We combined 18 years of data on dispatches, weather and fire danger and interviewed forestry workers to understand the spatial, temporal and weather distributions of these fires, and their underlying mechanisms. We estimate the average annual number of ignitions from forestry machinery in Sweden at 330-480 (2.0 +/- 0.4 ignitions per 1000 ha clear-felling) of which 34.5 led to firefighter dispatches, constituting 2.2% of all forest fire dispatches and 40% of area burnt. Soil scarification causes the most ignitions and the main mechanism is likely high-inertia contact between discs and large stones, causing sparks igniting dry humus or moss, countering reports suggesting that such metal fragments cannot fulfil ignition requirements. We found a spatial relationship between forestry machine ignitions and abundance of large stones, represented by a Boulder Index generated from a nationwide dataset. Further, 75% of the dispatches occurred on days with relative humidity <45%, Duff Moisture Code (Canadian system) >26 and Fire Weather Index >12. 75% of the area burned when Fire Weather Index was >20. Results suggest machine-caused forest fires can be largely avoided by cancelling operations in stony terrain during high-risk weather.


forestry; scarification; site-preparation; sparks

Published in

International Journal of Wildland Fire
2019, Volume: 28, number: 9, pages: 666-677 Publisher: CSIRO PUBLISHING