Canadian Forest Service Publications

Lightning-caused forest fire risk in Northwestern Ontario, Canada, is increasing and associated with anomalies in fire weather. 2014. Woolford, D.G.; Dean, C.B.; Martell, D.L.; Cao, J.; Wotton, B.M. Environmetrics 25(6): 406-416.

Year: 2014

Issued by: Great Lakes Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 35817

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

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Results from studies of climate model scenarios suggest that forest fire ignitions will increase in Canada in the future because of climate change. Yet, there have been few studies that monitor long-term trends in Canadian historical fire records. Although there are seasonal trends to historically reported fires within a fire season, there are also periods of zero-heavy behaviour as well as periods during which more fires are reported than usual. We develop a flexible mixture-modelling framework that permits the joint assessment of temporal trends in these dominant characteristics in terms of fire risk, defined as the daily probability that one or more fires are reported. The statistical power of such trend tests are also evaluated. We identify statistically significant increases in lightning-caused fire risk between 1963 and 2009 in the boreal forest regions of the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods ecoregions in Northwestern Ontario, Canada. These observed changes in lightning-caused fire risk were found to be associated with temperature and fire danger rating index anomalies. If such trends continue into the future, the duration of elevated periods of lightning-caused forest fire risk is forecasted to increase by over 50% by the middle of this century. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Plain Language Summary

A group of fire researchers and statisticians looked at trends in fire activity over the past 40 years for a region of northwestern Ontario. Historical fire activity is often studied to look for early impacts of a changing climate. Fire activity in a region is strongly linked to the weather, with hot and dry weather leading to more fires. We focused only on the 50% of fires caused by lightning and designed the study to limit the effect of any trends in ignitions due to changing human use of the forest. We found an increase in moderate and extreme fire activity, which was correlated with changes in soil moisture and overall atmospheric temperature. The risk of lightning fire occurrence increased by about 15% over the study period. This is considered to be marginally statistically significant. In about 15 years, there will be enough data collected to be more confident in the results.