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Human ignitions on private lands drive USFS cross‑boundary wildfire transmission and community impacts in the western US

Author(s): William M. Downing, Christopher J. Dunn, Matthew P. Thompson, Michael D. Caggiano, Karen C. Short
Year Published: 2022
Description:

Wildfires in the western United States (US) are increasingly expensive, destructive, and deadly. Reducing wildfire losses is particularly challenging when fires frequently start on one land tenure and damage natural or developed assets on other ownerships. Managing wildfire risk in multijurisdictional landscapes has recently become a centerpiece of wildfire strategic planning, legislation, and risk research. However, important empirical knowledge gaps remain regarding cross-boundary fire activity in the western US. Here, we use lands administered by the US Forest Service as a study system to assess the causes, ignition locations, structure loss, and social and biophysical factors associated with cross-boundary fire activity over the past three decades. Results show that cross-boundary fires were primarily caused by humans on private lands. Cross-boundary ignitions, area burned, and structure losses were concentrated in California. Public lands managed by the US Forest Service were not the primary source of fires that destroyed the most structures. Cross-boundary fire activity peaked in moderately populated landscapes with dense road and jurisdictional boundary networks. Fire transmission is increasing, and evidence suggests it will continue to do so in the future. Effective cross-boundary fire risk management will require cross-scale risk co-governance. Focusing on minimizing damages to high-value assets may be more effective than excluding fire from multijurisdictional landscapes.

Citation: Downing, William M.; Dunn, Christopher J.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Caggiano, Michael D.; Short, Karen C. 2022. Human ignitions on private lands drive USFS cross-boundary wildfire transmission and community impacts in the western US. Scientific Reports 12(1):2624.
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Fire Ecology, Risk, Wildland Urban Interface
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 24308
FRAMES RCS number: 65301
Record updated: Feb 22, 2022