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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

Effects of human-related and biotic landscape features on the occurrence and size of modern forest fires in Sweden

Pinto, G. A. S. J.; Rousseu, F.; Niklasson, M.; Drobyshev, I


The influence of landscape features on the occurrence and size of forest fires in Northern Europe has not been well-studied. In this paper, we analyzed the impact of human-related landscape properties (road and human population density), biotic features (amount of firebreak area and vegetation zone) and fire weather indices (Buildup Index, BUI and Initial Spread Index, ISI) on the occurrence and size of forest fires in Sweden from 1998 to 2017. To analyze the environmental controls of fire occurrence and fire size under different levels of climatological fire hazard, we divided the data into two subsets: (1) large fire years (LFY), defined as the years with the total amount of burned area being higher than the dataset-wide average (2002, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2014), and (2) the remaining years (nLFY). Our analytical approach was based on spatial models using Integrated Nested Laplace Approximations (INLA). Models built on both LFY and nLFY subsets suggested a strong human influence on fire occurrence: road density, the number of firebreaks, and population density, all were positively associated with fire occurrence, suggesting an important role of human-related ignitions. The southernmost vegetation zones in Sweden (boreo-nemoral and nemoral) exhibited the highest fire occurrence (LFY), a pattern potentially related to a higher population density in combination with weather more conducive for fires in this part of the country. The patterns that emerged from the fire size models pointed to the climate as the main factor controlling fire size, irrespective of the type of years analyzed. Road density, number of firebreaks and population density showed a negative association with fire size, possibly indicating higher efficiency of fire suppression in the areas with higher human presence. Vegetation zones were selected as an informative predictor, indicating that the fire activity varies across the zones, with those in mid-Sweden being the most prone to large events. The ISI correlated strongly and positively with fire size in both subsets (LFY and nLFY), pointing to the role of weather conditions favorable for fire spread, primarily that of surface fires. The BUI showed a weak negative correlation to fire size, indicating that dryness of organic horizon, specifically its deeper layers, is less relevant for predicting fire size. Contemporary fire activity in Sweden is driven by a combination of human-related ignitions, and weather conditions controlling fire spread with a moderate effect of vegetation composition and generally efficient fire suppression. Human-related landscape features (roads and population density) play a major role in shaping ignition patterns, whereas climate (ISI) and vegetation properties appear informative as predictors of fire size, even under a modern fire suppression effort.


Landscape properties; Fire suppression; INLA; Fire history; Natural hazard; Climate risks

Published in

Agricultural and Forest Meteorology
2020, Volume: 291, article number: 108084
Publisher: ELSEVIER