Analysis of historical data leveraging the sandpile model of self-organized criticality demonstrates the efficacy of prescribed burns in reducing risk of destructive wildfires

by   Joshua E. Gang, et al.

Prescribed burns have been increasingly administered to forest management with the assumption that they help reduce the risk of wildfires; however, this hypothesis has yet to be rigorously tested. We leverage the historical data of forest fires from multiple states to show that the sandpile model of self-organized criticality accurately represents the real-world incidence of fire by describing a negative linear relationship between the logarithm of fire size and the logarithm of the fire incidence number of that size. We then investigate the association between the size of prescribed burn and the slope of the negative linear relationship which represents the relative risk of destructive wildfires. The results demonstrate that increases in the area subject to prescribed burning generally reduce the risk of destructive wildfires. This is consistent with the Florida data, which shows a trend in reduction of destructive wildfires as prescribed burns have been progressively introduced to forest management. Our study justifies the application of the sandpile model to wildfire research and establishes a novel method of the analysis of slope estimated from the sandpile model for facilitating the investigation of potential risk factors of destructive wildfires and the development of an optimal strategy for prescribed burning.



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