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The Human and Physical Determinants of Wildfires and Burnt Areas in Israel

Levin, Noam, Tessler, Naama, Smith, Andrew, McAlpine, Clive
Environmental management 2016 v.58 no.3 pp. 549-562
climate change, data collection, databases, fire hazard, forest management, forests, humans, land use change, landscapes, moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer, remote sensing, risk, wildfires, Israel
Wildfires are expected to increase in Mediterranean landscapes as a result of climate change and changes in land-use practices. In order to advance our understanding of human and physical factors shaping spatial patterns of wildfires in the region, we compared two independently generated datasets of wildfires for Israel that cover approximately the same study period. We generated a site-based dataset containing the location of 10,879 wildfires (1991–2011), and compared it to a dataset of burnt areas derived from MODIS imagery (2000–2011). We hypothesized that the physical and human factors explaining the spatial distribution of burnt areas derived from remote sensing (mostly large fires, >100 ha) will differ from those explaining site-based wildfires recorded by national agencies (mostly small fires, <10 ha). Small wildfires recorded by forestry agencies were concentrated within planted forests and near built-up areas, whereas the largest wildfires were located in more remote regions, often associated with military training areas and herbaceous vegetation. We conclude that to better understand wildfire dynamics, consolidation of wildfire databases should be achieved, combining field reports and remote sensing. As nearly all wildfires in Mediterranean landscapes are caused by human activities, improving the management of forest areas and raising public awareness to fire risk are key considerations in reducing fire danger.