Human-ignited fires result in more extreme fire behavior and ecosystem impacts

Stijn Hantson, Niels Andela, Michael L. Goulden, James T. Randerson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


California has experienced a rapid increase in burned area over the past several decades. Although fire behavior is known to be closely tied to ecosystem impacts, most analysis of changing fire regimes has focused solely on area burned. Here we present a standardized database of wildfire behavior, including daily fire rate-of-spread and fire radiative power for large, multiday wildfires in California during 2012–2018 using remotely-sensed active fire observations. We observe that human-ignited fires start at locations with lower tree cover and during periods with more extreme fire weather. These characteristics contribute to more explosive growth in the first few days following ignition for human-caused fires as compared to lightning-caused fires. The faster fire spread, in turn, yields a larger ecosystem impact, with tree mortality more than three times higher for fast-moving fires (>1 km day−1) than for slow moving fires (<0.5 km day−1). Our analysis shows how human-caused fires can amplify ecosystem impacts and highlights the importance of limiting human-caused fires during period of extreme fire weather for meeting forest conservation targets under scenarios of future change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2717
Pages (from-to)2717
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 17 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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