Projecting wildfire area burned in the southeastern United States, 2011-2060


Prestemon, J.P., U. Shankar, A. Xiu, K. Talgo, D. Yang, E. Dixon IV, D. McKenzie, and K.L. Abt. 2016. Projecting wildfire area burned in the southeastern United States, 2011-2060. International Journal of Wildland Fire 25:715-729.


Future changes in society and climate are expected to affect wildfire activity in the south-eastern United States. The objective of this research was to understand how changes in both climate and society may affect wildfire in the coming decades. We estimated a three-stage statistical model of wildfire area burned by ecoregion province for lightning and human causes (1992–2010) based on precipitation, temperature, potential evapotranspiration, forest land use, human population and personal income. Estimated parameters from the statistical models were used to project wildfire area burned from 2011 to 2060 under nine climate realisations, using a combination of three Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-based emissions scenarios (A1B, A2, B2) and three general circulation models. Monte Carlo simulation quantifies ranges in projected area burned by county by year, and in total for higher-level spatial aggregations. Projections indicated, overall in the Southeast, that median annual area burned by lightning-ignited wildfire increases by 34%, human-ignited wildfire decreases by 6%, and total wildfire increases by 4% by 2056–60 compared with 2016–20. Total wildfire changes vary widely by state (47 to þ30%) and ecoregion province (73 to þ79%). Our analyses could be used to generate projections of wildfire-generated air pollutant exposures, relevant to meeting the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.