Wildland fires are an important agent in the earth's system. Multiple efforts are currently in progress to better represent wildland fires in earth system models. Although wildland fires are a natural disturbance factor, humans have an important effect on fire occurrence by directly igniting and suppressing fires and indirectly influencing fire behaviour by changing land cover and landscape structure. Although these factors are recognised, their quantitative effect on fire growth and burned area are not well understood and therefore only partly taken into account in current process-based fire models. Here we analyse the influence of humans on mean fire size globally. The mean fire size was extracted from the global Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) burned area product MCD45. We found a linear decreasing trend between population density and observed mean fire size over the globe, as well as a negative effect of cropland cover and net income. We implemented the effect of population density on fire growth in a global vegetation model including a process-based fire model (SPITFIRE-JSBACH). When including this demographic control, spatial trends in modelled fraction of burned area generally improved when compared with satellite-derived burned area data. More process-based solutions to limit fire spread are needed in the future, but the empirical relations described here serve as an intermediate step to improve current fire models.
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