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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Human activity and demographics drive the fire regime in a highly developed European boreal region

Sjostrom, J.; Granstrom, A.


Organization of successful wildfire prevention and suppression require detailed information on ignition causes, size distributions and relations to weather. From a large and highly detailed dataset of Swedish wildfire incidents (n = 124 000) we assess temporal, geographical and human-related patterns over a 25-year-period (1996-2020). We find strong positive correlations between population density and wildfire occurrence, primarily caused by a wide spectrum of human activities. However, fires >10 ha mostly occurred in sparsely populated regions and were more often ignited by lightning or heavy machinery. Further, large fires had a history of long response times and insufficient mop-up, in turn intimately linked to low population density. We detect no trend over the 25-year-period in either fire weather, number of ignitions or burned area, but a dramatic decline in wildfire caused by children's play as well as by springtime burning of dead grass, a traditional fire use in rural areas. Our results indicate that irrespective of climate change, societal changes such as rural depopulation and cultural shifts are imminently important for the future fire regime in this intensely managed part of the boreal, and may warrant more attention worldwide.


Demography; Boreal; Initial attack; Anthropogenic fire; Ignition; Cultural trends; Fennoscandia

Published in

Fire Safety Journal
2023, volume: 136, article number: 103743

Authors' information

Sjostrom, J.
RISE Research Institutes of Sweden
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management

UKÄ Subject classification

Forest Science

Publication Identifiers


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