Canadian Forest Service Publications

Spatial attributes of fire regime in eastern Canada: influences of regional landscape physiography and climate. 2014. Mansuy, N.; Boulanger, Y.; Terrier, A.; Gauthier, S.; Robitaille, A.; Bergeron, Y. Landscape Ecol. 29:1157-1170.

Year: 2014

Issued by: Laurentian Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 35604

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1007/s10980-014-0049-4

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The characterization of the fire regime in the boreal forest rarely considers spatial attributes other than fire size. This study investigates the spatial attributes of fires using the physiography of the landscape as a spatial constraint at a regional scale. Using the Canadian National Fire Database, the size, shape, orientation and eccentricity were assessed for 1,136 fires between 1970 and 2010 in Quebec’s boreal forest and were summarized by ecodistrict. These spatial metrics were used to cluster 33 ecodistricts into homogeneous fire zones and then to determine which environmental variables (climate, topography, hydrography, and surficial deposits) influence the spatial attributes of fires. Analyses showed that 28 out of 33 ecodistricts belonging to a given fire zone were spatially contiguous, suggesting that factors driving the spatial attributes of fire are acting at a regional scale. Indeed, the orientation and size of fires vary significantly among the zones and are driven by the spatial orientation of the landscape and the seasonal regional climate. In some zones, prevailing winds during periods conducive to fire events parallel to the orientation of the landscape may favour the occurrence of very large fires (>100,000 ha). Conversely, an orientation of the landscape opposite to the prevailing winds may act as a natural firebreak and limit the fire size and orientation. This study highlights the need to consider the synergistic relationship between the landscape spatial patterns and the climate regime over the spatial attributes of fire at supra-regional scale. Further scale-dependant studies are needed to improve our understanding of the spatial factors controlling the spatial attributes of fire.

Plain Language Summary

A fire regime can be characterized by area burned, severity of fires, their recurrence and their abundance in a given area. In eastern Canada, there are different fire regimes. They are influenced by complex interactions between regional climate, topography and the amount of available fuel. However, fire size is often the only spatial attribute considered.

This article explores new spatial attributes, the direction of fires and terrain configuration, and the connections between such attributes and regional physiography. The researchers found that fires are larger on land where the configuration allows prevailing winds to spread the fire, because there are no natural barriers to slow them down. However, where fires are smaller, the direction of physiographic and water drainage patterns is perpendicular to prevailing winds, thus creating natural firebreaks. This study highlights the need to understand the relationship between physiography and different aspects of the climate on a larger scale in order to better understand fire regimes.