Landscape Ecology

, Volume 25, Issue 9, pp 1405–1417 | Cite as

Size-dependent pattern of wildfire ignitions in Portugal: when do ignitions turn into big fires?

  • Francisco Moreira
  • Filipe X. Catry
  • Francisco Rego
  • Fernando Bacao
Research article


Not all wildfire ignitions result in burned areas of a similar size. The aim of this study was to explore whether there was a size-dependent pattern (in terms of resulting burned area) of fire ignitions in Portugal. For that purpose we characterised 71,618 fire ignitions occurring in the country in the period 2001–2003, in terms of population density in the local parish, land cover type and distance to roads. We then assigned each ignition into subsets of five classes according to the resulting burned area: >5 ha, >50 ha, >100 ha, >250 ha, >500 ha. The probability of an ignition resulting in different burned area classes was modelled using binary logistic regression, and the relative importance, strength and signal (positive or negative) of the three explanatory variables compared across the models obtained for the different classes. Finally, we explored the implications of land cover and population density changes during the period 1990–2000 in Portugal for the likelihood of ignitions resulting in wildfires >500 ha. Population density was the more important variable explaining the resulting burned area, with the probability of an ignition resulting in a large burned area being inversely related to population density. In terms of land cover, ignitions resulting in large burned areas were more likely to occur in shrubland and forest areas. Finally, ignitions farther away from roads were more likely to result in large burns. The current land cover trends (decrease of agricultural land and increase in shrublands) and population trends (decline in population densities except near the coast) are increasing the probability that ignitions will result in large fires in vast regions of the country.


Fire Land cover Accessibility Population density Landscape management 



We acknowledge the Portuguese Forest Services (DGRF) for all collaboration and for providing the wildfire database. We also thank Paula Lopes, António Nunes and Vasco Nunes for their help on preliminary data processing. This study was supported by the European Commission under the 6th Framework Programme through the Integrated Project “Fire Paradox” (contract no. FP6-018505), by IFAP-IP through the Project “Recuperação de áreas Ardidas”, and by Project FIRELAND (Project PTDC/AGR-CFL/104651/2008). FC was funded by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (PhD grant SFRH/BD/65991/2009).


  1. Bermudez Z, Mendes J, Pereira JMC, Turkman KF, Vasconcelos MJP (2009) Spatial and temporal extremes of wildfire sizes in Portugal. Int J Wildland Fire 18:983–991CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bonazountas M, Kallidromitou D, Kassomenos PA, Passas N (2005) Forest fire risk analysis. Hum Ecol Risk Assess 11:617–626CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cardille JA, Ventura SJ (2001) Occurrence of wildfire in the northern Great Lakes Region: effects of land cover and land ownership assessed at multiple scales. Int J Wildland Fire 10:145–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cardille JA, Ventura SJ, Turner MG (2001) Environmental and social factors influencing wildfires in the Upper Midwest, USA. Ecol Appl 11:111–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Catry FX, Damasceno P, Silva JS, Galante M, Moreira F (2007) Spatial distribution patterns of wildfire ignitions in Portugal. In: Proceedings of the 4th international wildland fire conference, Seville. CD RomGoogle Scholar
  6. Catry FX, Rego F, Moreira F, Bação F (2008) Characterizing and modelling the spatial patterns of wildfire ignitions in Portugal: fire initiation and resulting burned area. In: de las Heras J, Brebbia C, Viegas D, Leone V (eds) WIT transactions on ecology and the environment, vol 119. WIT Press, Toledo, Spain, pp 213–221Google Scholar
  7. Catry FX, Rego F, Bação F, Moreira F (2009) Modelling and mapping wildfire ignition risk in Portugal. Int J Wildland Fire 18:921–931Google Scholar
  8. Chou YH (1992) Management of wildfires with a geographical information system. Int J Geogr Inf Syst 6:123–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chuvieco E, Salas J, Barredo JI, Carvacho L, Karteris M, Koutsias N (1998) Global patterns of large fire occurrence in the European Mediterranean Basin: a GIS analysis. In: Viegas DX (ed) Proceedings of the 3rd international conference on forest fire research—14th conference on forest fire meteorology, vol II. ADAI, University of Coimbra, Portugal, pp 2447–2462Google Scholar
  10. Chuvieco E, Allgöwer B, Salas J (2003) Integration of physical and human factors in fire danger assessment. In: Chuvieco E (ed) Wildland fire danger estimation and mapping. The role of remote sensing data, vol 4. World Scientific Publishing, SingaporeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Debussche M, Lepart J, Dervieux A (1999) Mediterranean landscape changes: evidence from old postcards. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 8:3–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. DGF (2001) Inventário florestal nacional. Portugal continental. 3ª Revisão, 1995–1998. Direcção-Geral das Florestas, LisboaGoogle Scholar
  13. DGF (2003) Determinação das causas dos incêndios florestais em 2002. Direcção-Geral das Florestas, LisboaGoogle Scholar
  14. DGRF (2006) Incêndios florestais – Relatório de 2005. Divisão de Defesa da Floresta Contra Incêndios. Direcção-Geral dos Recursos Florestais (Lisboa)Google Scholar
  15. EC (2008) Forest fires in Europe 2007. Report 8. European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Ispra, Italy, 80 ppGoogle Scholar
  16. ESRI (2005) ArcGIS 9.1. software. Environmental Systems Research Institute, Redlands, CAGoogle Scholar
  17. FAO (1986) Wildland fire management terminology. FAO Forestry Paper 70, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 257 ppGoogle Scholar
  18. Ferrão J (2004) Dinâmicas territoriais e trajectórias de desenvolvimento: Portugal 1991–2001. Revista de Estudos Demográficos 34:17–25Google Scholar
  19. Finney MA (2005) The challenge of quantitative risk analysis for wildland fire. For Ecol Manage 211:97–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Genton MG, Butry DT, Gumpertz ML, Prestemon JP (2006) Spatio-temporal analysis of wildfire ignitions in the St Johns River Water Management District, Florida. Int J Wildland Fire 15:87–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hill J, Stellmes M, Udelhoven T, Röder A, Sommer S (2008) Mediterranean desertification and land degradation: mapping related land use change syndromes based on satellite observations. Glob Planet Change 64:146–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hosmer DW, Lemeshow S (1989) Applied logistic regression. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. IA (2003) Atlas do Ambiente Digital. Instituto do Ambiente. Available at [Verified 2 March 2007]
  24. IA (2005) CORINE Land Cover 2000 Portugal. Instituto do AmbienteGoogle Scholar
  25. IGEOE (2005) Carta Militar Itinerária de Portugal. Instituto Geográfico do Exército. Available at [Verified 2 March 2007]
  26. IGP (2004) Carta administrativa oficial de Portugal. Instituto Geográfico Português. Available at [Verified 2 March 2007]
  27. INE (1996) Censos 1991. Resultados definitivos. Instituto Nacional de EstatísticaGoogle Scholar
  28. INE (2003) Dados estatísticos da população em Portugal - Censos 2001. Instituto Nacional de EstatísticaGoogle Scholar
  29. Johnson EA, Miyanishi K (2001) Forest fires: behavior and ecological effects. Academic Press, San Diego, CAGoogle Scholar
  30. Kilinc M, Beringer J (2007) The spatial and temporal distribution of lightning strikes and their relationship. J Clim 20:1161–1173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Loboda TV, Csiszar IA (2007) Assessing the risk of ignition in the Russian Far East within a modelling framework of fire threat. Ecol Appl 17:791–805CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. MacDonald D, Crabtree JR, Wiesinger G, Dax T, Stamou N, Fleury P, Gutierrez Lazpita J, Gibon A (2000) Agricultural abandonment in mountain areas of Europe: environmental consequences and policy response. J Environ Manage 59:47–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mercer DE, Prestemon JP (2005) Comparing production function models for wildfire risk analysis in the wildland-urban interface. For Pol Econ 7:782–795Google Scholar
  34. Mermoz M, Kitzberger T, Veblen TT (2005) Landscape influences on occurrence and spread of wildfires in Patagonian forests and shrublands. Ecology 86:2705–2715CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. MMA (2007) Los incendios forestales en España. Decenio 1996–2005. Area de Defensa Contra Incendios Forestales. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, MadridGoogle Scholar
  36. Moreira F, Russo D (2007) Modelling the impact of agricultural abandonment and wildfires on vertebrate diversity in Mediterranean Europe. Landscape Ecol 22:1461–1476CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Moreira F, Rego F, Ferreira P (2001) Temporal (1958–1995) pattern of change in a cultural landscape of northwestern Portugal: implications for fire occurrence. Landscape Ecol 16:557–567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Moreira F, Vaz P, Catry F, Silva JS (2009) Regional variations in wildfire preference for land cover types in Portugal: implications for landscape management to minimise fire hazard. Int J Wildland Fire 18:563–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Moreno JM, Vázquez A, Vélez R (1998) Recent history of forest fires in Spain. In: Moreno JM (ed) Large forest fires. Backhuys, Leiden, pp 159–185Google Scholar
  40. Mouillot F, Ratte J, Joffre R, Mouillot D, Rambal S (2005) Long-term forest dynamic after land abandonment in a fire prone Mediterranean landscape (central Corsica, France). Landscape Ecol 20:101–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nunes A, Duarte J (2006) Assessment of forest fire risk in the Serra da Estrela Natural Park (Portugal): methodological application and validation. In: Proceedings of the 5th international conference on forest fire research, Figueira da Foz. CD RomGoogle Scholar
  42. NWCG (2006) Glossary of wildland fire terminology. PMS 205, National Wildfire Coordinating GroupGoogle Scholar
  43. Pearce J, Ferrier S (2000) Evaluating the predictive performance of habitat models developed using logistic regression. Ecol Model 133:225–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pérez B, Cruz A, Fernández-González F, Moreno JM (2003) Effects of the recent land-use history on the postfire vegetation of uplands in Central Spain. For Ecol Manage 182:273–283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pinto-Correia T, Breman B, Jorge V, Dneboská M (2006) Estudo sobre o abandono em Portugal continental. Análise das dinâmicas da ocupação do solo, do sector agrícola, e da comunidade rural.Tipologia de áreas rurais. Universidade de Évora, 226 ppGoogle Scholar
  46. Preisler HK, Brillinger DR, Burgan RE, Benoir JW (2004) Probability based models for estimation of wildfire risk. Int J Wildland Fire 13:133–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rego FC, Catry FX, Maia MJ, Santos TA, Gravato A, Castro IC, Moreira FO, Pinto PR, Almeida J (2004) Análise da Rede Nacional de Postos de Vigia em Portugal. Technical Report, LisboaGoogle Scholar
  48. Roloff GJ, Mealey SP, Clay C, Barry J, Yanish C, Neuenschwander L (2005) A process for modelling short and long-term risk in the southern Oregon Cascades. For Ecol Manage 211:166–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Romero-Calcerrada R, Novillo CJ, Millington JDA, Gomez-Jimenez I (2008) GIS analysis of spatial patterns of human-caused wildfire ignition risk in the SW of Madrid (Central Spain). Landscape Ecol 23:341–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rothermel R (1983) How to predict the spread and intensity of forest and range fires. General Technical Report INT-143, Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, 161 ppGoogle Scholar
  51. Santos FD, Miranda P (2006) Alterações climáticas em Portugal: Cenários, Impactos e Medidas de adaptação Project SIAM II. Gradiva, LisbonGoogle Scholar
  52. Saveland JM, Neueschwander LF (1990) A signal detection framework to evaluate models of tree mortality following fire damage. For Sci 36:66–76Google Scholar
  53. SPSS (2006) SPSS for Windows. SPSS Inc., ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  54. Van Doorn A, Bakker M (2007) The destination of arable land in a marginal agricultural landscape in South Portugal: an exploration of land use change determinants. Landscape Ecol 22:1073–1087CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Vasconcelos MJP, Silva S, Tomé M, Alvim M, Pereira JMC (2001) Spatial prediction of fire ignition probabilities: comparing logistic regression and neural networks. Photogramm Eng Remote Sens 67:73–81Google Scholar
  56. Vasilakos C, Kalabokidis K, Hatzopoulos J, Kallos G, Matsinos Y (2007) Integrating new methods and tools in fire danger rating. Int J Wildland Fire 16:306–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Vazquez A, Moreno JM (1998) Patterns of lightning- and human-caused fires in peninsular Spain. Int J Wildland Fire 8:103–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Vega-Garcia C, Lee BS, Woodard PM, Titus SJ (1996) Applying Neural Network technology to human-caused wildfire occurrence prediction. Art Int Appl 10:9–18Google Scholar
  59. Yang J, Healy HS, Shifley SR, Gustafson EJ (2007) Spatial patterns of modern period human-caused fire occurrence in the Missouri Ozark Highlands. For Sci 53:1–15Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francisco Moreira
    • 1
  • Filipe X. Catry
    • 1
  • Francisco Rego
    • 1
  • Fernando Bacao
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre of Applied Ecology ‘Prof. Baeta Neves’, Institute of AgronomyTechnical University of LisbonLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Institute of Statistics and Information ManagementNew University of LisbonLisbonPortugal

Personalised recommendations