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Open AccessArticle

Wildfire Impacts on Slope Stability Triggering in Mountain Areas

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Politecnico di Milano, 20133 Milano, Italy
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Geosciences 2019, 9(10), 417; https://doi.org/10.3390/geosciences9100417
Received: 31 July 2019 / Revised: 20 September 2019 / Accepted: 23 September 2019 / Published: 25 September 2019
Landslides over steep slopes, floods along rivers plains and debris flows across valleys are hydrogeological phenomena typical for mountain regions. Such events are generally triggered by rainfall, which can have large variability in terms of both its intensity and volume. Furthermore, terrain predisposition and the presence of some disturbances, such as wildfires, can have an adverse effect on the potential risk. Modelling the complex interaction between these components is not a simple task and cannot always be carried out using instability thresholds that only take into account the characteristics of the rainfall events. In some particular cases, external factors can modify the existing delicate equilibrium on the basis of which stability thresholds are defined. In particular, events such as wildfires can cause the removal of vegetation coverage and the modification of the soil terrain properties. Therefore, wildfires can effectively reduce the infiltration capacity of the terrain and modify evapotranspiration. As a result, key factors for slope stability, such as the trend of the degree of saturation of the terrain, can be strongly modified. Thus, studying the role of wildfire effects on the terrain’s hydrological balance is fundamental to establish the critical conditions that can trigger potential slope failures (i.e., shallow landslides and possible subsequent debris flows). In this work, we investigate the consequences of wildfire on the stability of slopes through a hydrological model that takes into account the wildfire effects and compare the results to the current stability thresholds. Two case studies in the Ardenno (IT) and Ronco sopra Ascona (CH) municipalities were chosen for model testing. The aim of this paper is to propose a quantitative analysis of the two cases studies, taking into account the role of fire in the slope stability assessment. The results indicate how the post-fire circumstances strongly modify the ability of the terrain to absorb rainfall water. This effect results in a persistently drier terrain until a corner point is reached, after which the stability of the slope could be undermined by a rainfall event of negligible intensity. View Full-Text
Keywords: hydrogeological hazard; wildfire; rainfall; slope stability; debris flow; landslide hydrogeological hazard; wildfire; rainfall; slope stability; debris flow; landslide
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MDPI and ACS Style

Abbate, A.; Longoni, L.; Ivanov, V.I.; Papini, M. Wildfire Impacts on Slope Stability Triggering in Mountain Areas. Geosciences 2019, 9, 417.

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