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Modelling the Behavior and Extent of Mid-Holocene Lightning-Caused Fires in Portugal †

Centre for the Research and Technology of Agro-Environmental and Biological Sciences (CITAB), University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, 5000-801 Vila Real, Portugal
MED—Mediterranean Institute for Agriculture, Environment and Development, University of Évora, 7006-554 Évora, Portugal
CHANGE—Global Change and Sustainability Institute, University of Évora, 7006-554 Évora, Portugal
EaRSLab—Earth Remote Sensing Laboratory, University of Évora, 7006-554 Évora, Portugal
Institute for Advanced Studies and Research, University of Évora, 7006-554 Évora, Portugal
Forest Research Centre, School of Agriculture, University of Lisbon, Tapada da Ajuda, 1349-017 Lisboa, Portugal
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Presented at the Third International Conference on Fire Behavior and Risk, Sardinia, Italy, 3–6 May 2022.
Environ. Sci. Proc. 2022, 17(1), 89;
Published: 18 August 2022
(This article belongs to the Proceedings of The Third International Conference on Fire Behavior and Risk)


Fires of natural origin are usually a very small fraction of the total number of fires in southern Europe, and as such, they are not relevant to contemporary fire regimes and policies, even if they occasionally develop into large-scale conflagrations. However, lighting-caused fires might have been a relevant landscape-level disturbance prior to the anthropogenic control exerted through land use and land cover, fire use, and wildfire suppression. Our goal was to simulate fire behavior characteristics (rate of spread, fireline intensity) for recent (2001–2020) individual lightning fires occurring in Portugal but under a mid-Holocene landscape context, i.e., just before the human-induced Neolithic disturbances, including burning. We selected three study areas (1240–2615 km2) with distinctively high densities of lightning fires (4.4–7.0 per 100 km2 per year) and quantified deciduous broadleaved forest, evergreen broadleaved forest and shrubland cover within each area at 6 ka BP (before present) by combining mapped forest cover (from a palynological reconstruction) and potential natural vegetation series. Then, we simulated the unbounded hourly spread of each fire until its natural extinction (determined by fuel moisture) and allowing for smoldering-only periods with subsequent reactivation, using a suite of selected semi-empirical and empirical models and ERA5-Land (ECMWF, Reading, UK) reanalysis weather data for the location and duration of the event. The simulations considered uncertainty in vegetation cover and in the likelihood of fire reactivation after light rainfall. The unbounded fire size exceeded observed fire size by up to four orders of magnitude. Preliminary results for one of the study areas suggest an infrequent and mixed-severity natural fire regime affecting about 1–4% of the landscape every year. The study offers increased understanding of the past regime and ecological role of natural fire in the Mediterranean basin and can inform improved fire management policies in the region.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, P.F.; methodology, P.F. and N.G.; formal analysis, P.F.; investigation, P.F., N.G. and D.A.D.; writing—original draft preparation, P.F.; writing—review and editing, P.F., N.G. and D.A.D.; supervision, P.F. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


P.F. was funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) under Project UIDB/04033/2020. D.A.D. was funded by FCT through Ph.D. Grant PD/BD/142961/2018, funded by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, and by the European Social Fund—Operational Program Human Capital within the 2014–2020 EU Strategic Framework and also through doctoral program SUSFOR (PD/00157/2012) hosted at Forest Research Centre (CEF), Lisbon, Portugal (UIDB/00239/2020). N.G. was funded by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund in the framework of the Interreg V-A Spain-Portugal program (POCTEP) under the CILIFO (Ref. 0753_CILIFO_5_E) and FIREPOCTEP (Ref. 0756_FIREPOCTEP_6_E) projects and by National Funds through FCT under the Project UIDB/05183/2020.

Data Availability Statement

All data used are publicly available.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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MDPI and ACS Style

Fernandes, P.; Guiomar, N.; Davim, D.A. Modelling the Behavior and Extent of Mid-Holocene Lightning-Caused Fires in Portugal. Environ. Sci. Proc. 2022, 17, 89.

AMA Style

Fernandes P, Guiomar N, Davim DA. Modelling the Behavior and Extent of Mid-Holocene Lightning-Caused Fires in Portugal. Environmental Sciences Proceedings. 2022; 17(1):89.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Fernandes, Paulo, Nuno Guiomar, and David A. Davim. 2022. "Modelling the Behavior and Extent of Mid-Holocene Lightning-Caused Fires in Portugal" Environmental Sciences Proceedings 17, no. 1: 89.

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