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Influences of forest roads on the spatial patterns of human-and lightning-caused wildfire ignitions

Abstract

Understanding the spatial patterns of fire ignitions and fire sizes is essential for understanding fire regimes. Although previous studies have documented associations of human-caused fire ignitions with road corridors, less consideration has been given to understanding the multiple influences of roads on the fire regime at a broader landscape-scale. Therefore, we examined the difference between lightning- and human-caused fire ignitions in relation to forest road corridors and other anthropogenic and biophysical factors in the eastern Cascade Mountains of Washington State. We used geographical information systems and case-control logistic regression models to assess the relative importance of these explanatory variables that influence the locations of lightning versus human-caused ignitions. We found that human-caused ignitions were concentrated close to roads, in high road density areas, and near the wildland–urban interface (WUI). In contrast, lightning-caused ignitions were concentrated in low road density areas, away from WUI, and in low population density areas. Lightning-caused ignitions were also associated with fuels and climatic and topographic factors. A weak but significant relationship between lightning-caused fire and proximity to gravel roads may be related to fuels near roads or to bias in detection and reporting of lightning-caused fires near roads. Although most small fires occurred in roaded areas, they accounted for only a small proportion of the total burned area. In contrast, the large fires in roadless and wilderness areas accounted for most of the burned area. Thus, from the standpoint of the total area burned, the effect of forest roads on restricting fire size is likely greater than the impact of roads on increasing fire ignitions. The results of our study suggest that roads and their edge effect area should be more widely acknowledged as a unique type of landscape effect in fire research and management.

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