Context: Proximity of landcover elements to each other will enable or constrain fire spread. Assessments of potential fire propagation across landscapes typically involve empirical or simulation models that estimate probabilities based on complex interactions among biotic and abiotic controls.
Objectives: We developed a metric of landscape fire exposure based solely on a grid cell’s proximity to nearby hazardous fuel capable of transmitting fire to its location. To evaluate accuracy of this new metric, we asked: Do burned areas occur preferentially in locations with high exposure?
Methods: We mapped exposure to hazardous fuels in Alberta, Canada using a neighbourhood analysis. Correspondence between exposure and 2331 fires that burned 2,606,387 ha following our 2007 assessment was evaluated and exposure changes between 2007 and 2019 were assessed.
Results: In all eleven ecological units analysed, burned area surpluses occurred where exposure was ≥ 60% and corresponding deficits occurred where exposure was < 40%. In seven ecological units, the majority of burned areas had pre-fire exposure ≥ 80%. Between 2007 and 2019, land area with exposure ≥ 80% increased by almost a third.
Conclusions: Exposure to hazardous fuels is easily quantified with a single thematic layer and aligns well with subsequent fires in Boreal, Foothills and Rocky Mountain natural regions. The resulting fire exposure metric is a numeric rating of the potential for fire transmission to a location given surrounding fuel composition and configuration, irrespective of weather or other fire controls. Exposure can be compared across geographic regions and time periods; and used in conjunction with other metrics of fire controls to inform the study of landscape fire.