Optimizing prescribed fire allocation for managing fire risk in central Catalonia

Sci Total Environ. 2018 Apr 15;621:872-885. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.297. Epub 2017 Dec 18.


We used spatial optimization to allocate and prioritize prescribed fire treatments in the fire-prone Bages County, central Catalonia (northeastern Spain). The goal of this study was to identify suitable strategic locations on forest lands for fuel treatments in order to: 1) disrupt major fire movements, 2) reduce ember emissions, and 3) reduce the likelihood of large fires burning into residential communities. We first modeled fire spread, hazard and exposure metrics under historical extreme fire weather conditions, including node influence grid for surface fire pathways, crown fraction burned and fire transmission to residential structures. Then, we performed an optimization analysis on individual planning areas to identify production possibility frontiers for addressing fire exposure and explore alternative prescribed fire treatment configurations. The results revealed strong trade-offs among different fire exposure metrics, showed treatment mosaics that optimize the allocation of prescribed fire, and identified specific opportunities to achieve multiple objectives. Our methods can contribute to improving the efficiency of prescribed fire treatment investments and wildfire management programs aimed at creating fire resilient ecosystems, facilitating safe and efficient fire suppression, and safeguarding rural communities from catastrophic wildfires. The analysis framework can be used to optimally allocate prescribed fire in other fire-prone areas within the Mediterranean region and elsewhere.

Keywords: Fire modeling; Mediterranean areas; Prescribed fires; Production possibility frontiers; Treatment optimization.