The role of fire-suppression force in limiting the spread of extremely large forest fires in Portugal

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Abilio Pereira Pacheco
João Claro
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Large forest fires are notorious for their environmental and socio-economic impacts and are assigned a disproportionately high percentage of the fire management budget. This study addresses extremely large fires (ELF, C2500 ha) in Portugal (2003-2013). We analysed the effect of fire-suppression force variation on ELF duration, size and growth rate, versus the effect of the concomitant fire environment (namely fuel and weather) conditions. ELF occurred in highly flammable landscapes and typically were impelled by extreme fire weather conditions. Allocation of suppression resources (normalized per unit of burned area or perimeter length) was disparate among fires, suggesting inadequate incident management. Fire-suppression effort did not affect time to containment modelled by survival analysis. Regression tree analysis indicated ELF spread to be negatively affected by higher fire-suppression resourcing, less severe fire weather, lower time to containment and higher presence of <9-year-old fuels, by decreasing order of importance; regional variability was relevant. Fire environment-to-fire suppression ratios of influence were 3: 1 for fire size and 1: 1 for fire growth rate, respectively, explaining 76 and 60 % of the existing variability. Results highlight the opportunistic nature of large-fire containment. To minimize the area burned by ELF, management and operational improvements leading to faster containment are recommended, rather than higher fire-suppression resourcing; more effective identification and exploration of containment opportunities are preferable to the accumulation of suppression resources.