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Spatiotemporal Trends in Wildfires across the Western United States (1950–2019)

Idaho State University GIS TReC, 921 S. 8th Ave., stop 8104, Pocatello, ID 83209-8104, USA
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Remote Sens. 2020, 12(18), 2959; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs12182959
Received: 21 July 2020 / Revised: 8 September 2020 / Accepted: 9 September 2020 / Published: 11 September 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Remote Sensing and Pyrogeography)
Wildfire regimes are changing across the globe with several ecosystems witnessing more frequent fires across longer fire seasons. The western United States is one such region. The NASA RECOVER Historic Fires Database (HFD) contains all documented wildfires across the western United States occurring between 1950 and 2019 (n = 55,566). This study analyzed the spatiotemporal patterns of these wildfires using ArcGIS Pro Geographic Information System (GIS) software to characterize changes in fire frequency, size, and severity over time. Analysis of annual fire frequency and acres burned reveals a near exponential growth in fire frequency (R2 = 0.71, P < 0.001) and size (R2 = 0.67, P < 0.001) since 1950. A comparison of mean and median acres burned annually suggests the occurrence of mega-fires (wildfires burning more than 100,000 acres) is also increasing. To illustrate this, this study found the mean size of fires occurring in the decade of the 1950s was 1204 acres while in the most recent decade (2010–2019) mean fire size has more than doubled, reaching an average of 3474 acres. The trend in fire severity between 2001 and 2017 used 365 Differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR) layers calculated using Landsat or Sentinel-2 satellite imagery. Results suggest fire severity has remained relatively stable in light of increasing fire frequency and size, however more research is required to more fully understand changes in fire severity. The results of this study and other related studies are important as they provide useful information to land managers and policy makers regarding the changing wildfire regime currently being witnessed across the western United States. View Full-Text
Keywords: temporal trends; fire frequency; fire size; fire severity; western USA; wildfires; GIS; historic fires database temporal trends; fire frequency; fire size; fire severity; western USA; wildfires; GIS; historic fires database
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Weber, K.T.; Yadav, R. Spatiotemporal Trends in Wildfires across the Western United States (1950–2019). Remote Sens. 2020, 12, 2959.

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