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Wildfire ignition probability in Belgium

  • Depicker, Arthur
  • De Baets, Bernard
  • Baetens, Jan
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2020
DOI: 10.5194/nhess-20-363-2020
Ghent University Institutional Archive
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In recent decades, large wildfires have inflicted considerable damage on valuable Natura 2000 regions in Belgium. Despite these events and the general perception that global change will exacerbate wildfire prevalence, this has not been studied yet in the Belgian context. Therefore, the national government initiated the national action plan on wildfires in order to evaluate the wildfire risk, on the one hand, and the materials, procedures, and training of fire services, on the other hand. This study focuses on the spatial distribution of the ignition probability, a component of the wildfire risk framework. In a first stage, we compile a historical wildfire database using (i) newspaper articles between 1994 and 2016 and (ii) a list of wildfire interventions between 2010 and 2013, provided by the government. In a second stage, we use a straightforward method relying on Bayes' rule and a limited number of covariates to calculate the ignition probability. It appears that most wildfire-prone areas in Belgium are located in heathland where military exercises are held. The provinces that have the largest relative areas with a high or very high wildfire risk are Limburg and Antwerp. Our study also revealed that most wildfire ignitions in Belgium are caused by humans (both arson and negligence) and that natural causes such as lightning are rather scarce. Wildfire prevention can be improved by (i) excluding military activity in fire-prone areas during the fire season, (ii) improving collaboration with foreign emergency services, (iii) concentrating the dedicated resources in the areas that display the highest ignition probabilities, (iv) improving fire detection methods, and (v) raising more awareness among the public.

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