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Exploring how alternative mapping approaches influence fireshed assessment and human community exposure to wildfire

Author(s): Joe H. Scott, Matthew P. Thompson, Julie W. Gilbertson-Day
Year Published: 2015

Attaining fire-adapted human communities has become a key focus of collaborative planning on landscapes across the western United States and elsewhere. The coupling of fire simulation with GIS has expanded the analytical base to support such planning efforts, particularly through the "fireside" concept that identifies areas where wildfires could ignite and reach a human community. Previous research has identified mismatches in scale between localized community wildfire planning and the broader fireshed considering patterns of wildfire activity across landscapes. Here we expand upon this work by investigating the degree to which alternative geospatial characterizations of human communities could influence assessment of community exposure and characterization of the fireshed. We use three methods of mapping human communities (point, raster, and polygon) and develop three fireshed metrics (size, number of fires reaching houses, and number of houses exposed), and apply this analytical framework on a 2.3 million ha case study landscape encompassing the Sierra National Forest in California, USA. We simulated fire occurrence and growth using FSim for 10,000 iterations (fire seasons) at 180-m resolution. The simulation resulted in 3.9 large fires per million ha per year, with a mean size of 3432 ha. Results exhibit similarities and differences in how exposure is quantified, specifically indicating that polygons representing recognized community boundaries led to the lowest exposure levels. These results highlight how choice of the mapping approach could lead to misestimating the scope of the problem or targeting mitigation efforts in the wrong areas, and underscore the importance of clarity and spatial fidelity in geospatial data representing communities at risk.

Citation: Scott, Joe H.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W. 2015. Exploring how alternative mapping approaches influence fireshed assessment and human community exposure to wildfire. GeoJournal. doi: 10.1007/s10708-015-9679-6.
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Simulation Modeling, Fire Communication & Education, Mapping, Wildland Urban Interface
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 13949
Record updated: Mar 5, 2019