Predicting current and future wildfire frequency and size is central to wildfire control and management. Multiple fire danger indices (FDIs) that incorporate weather and fuel conditions have been developed and utilized to support wildfire predictions and risk assessment. However, the scale-dependent performance of individual FDIs remains poorly understood, which leads to large uncertainty in the estimated fire sizes under climate change. Here, we calculate four commonly used FDIs over the conterminous United States using high-resolution (4 km) climate and fuel data sets for the 1984-2019 period. The relationships of these four FDIs to the observed wildfire sizes show that higher values of FDIs correlate to larger total fire sizes; this correlation is more robust at larger spatial scales. Sensitivity analysis indicates that the daily minimum relative humidity and precipitation are the most important drivers of the annual mean fire danger. In the instances of extreme fire danger, wind speed becomes a critical factor and should be considered in the calculation of the FDI. To assess the impact of climate change on future fire size, we calculate the present-day and end-of-century FDIs using the 12 km regional climate model simulations. The four FDIs generally predict consistent changes in future fire potential, suggesting an overall higher fire potential in conjunction with a prolonged wildfire season in future climate. Regionally, the four FDIs also reveal similar seasonal patterns as the enhancement arises mostly in spring and summer over the southwest US while in summer and fall over the northern and eastern US.
Yu, Guo; Feng, Yan; Wang, Jiali; Wright, Daniel B. 2023. Performance of fire danger indices and their utility in predicting future wildfire danger over the conterminous United States. Earth's Future 11(11): e2023EF003823.