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Volume 18, issue 10 | Copyright

Special issue: Spatial and temporal patterns of wildfires: models, theory,...

Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 2641-2651, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-18-2641-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 02 Oct 2018

Research article | 02 Oct 2018

Has fire policy decreased the return period of the largest wildfire events in France? A Bayesian assessment based on extreme value theory

Guillaume Evin1, Thomas Curt2, and Nicolas Eckert1 Guillaume Evin et al.
  • 1Irstea – UR ETGR Erosion Torrentielle, Neige et Avalanches, Université Grenoble Alpes, 38402 Saint-Martin-d'Hères, France
  • 2Irstea – RECOVER Mediterranean Ecosystems and Risks, 3275 route Cézanne, 13182 Aix-en-Provence, France

Abstract. Very large wildfires have high human, economic, and ecological impacts so that robust evaluation of their return period is crucial. Preventing such events is a major objective of the new fire policy set up in France in 1994, which is oriented towards fast and massive fire suppression. Whereas this policy is probably efficient for reducing the mean burned area (BA), its effect on the largest fires is still unknown. In this study, we make use of statistical extreme value theory (EVT) to compute return periods of very large BAs in southern France, for two distinct periods (1973 to 1994 and 1995 to 2016) and for three pyroclimatic regions characterized by specific fire activities. Bayesian inference and related predictive simulations are used to fairly evaluate related uncertainties. Results demonstrate that the BA corresponding to a return period of 5 years has actually significantly decreased, but that this is not the case for large return periods (e.g., 50 years). For example, in the most fire-prone region, which includes Corsica and Provence, the median 5-year return level decreased from 5000 to 2400ha, while the median 50-year return level decreased only from 17800 to 12500ha. This finding is coherent with the recent occurrence of conflagrations of large and intense fires clearly far beyond the suppression capacity of firemen. These fires may belong to a new generation of fires promoted by long-term fuel accumulation, urbanization into the wildland, and ongoing climate change. These findings may help adapt the operational system of fire prevention and suppression to ongoing changes. Also, the proposed methodology may be useful for other case studies worldwide.

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Very large wildfires have high human, economic, and ecological impacts. Preventing such events is a major objective of the new fire policy set up in France in 1994, which is oriented towards fast and massive fire suppression. This study investigates the effect of this policy on the largest fires. We estimate the burned area corresponding to fires that occur every 5, 20, and 50 years on average (so-called return periods) in southern France.
Very large wildfires have high human, economic, and ecological impacts. Preventing such events...
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