Determining Fire Dates and Locating Ignition Points With Satellite

Benali A., Russo A., Sá A.C.L., Pinto R.M.S., Price O., Koutsias N., Pereira. J.M.C.
Remote Sensing, 8(4), 326, DOI: 10.3390/rs8040326

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Each wildfire has its own “history”, burns under specific conditions and leads to unique environmental impacts. Information on where and when it has started and its duration is important to improve understanding on the dynamics of individual wildfires. This information is typically included in fire databases that are known to have: (i) multiple error sources; (ii) limited spatial coverage and/or time span, and; (iii) often unknown accuracy and uncertainty. Satellite data have a large potential to reduce such limitations. We used active fire data from the MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) to estimate fire start/end dates and ignition location(s) for large wildfires that occurred in Alaska, Portugal, Greece, California and southeastern Australia. We assessed the agreement between satellite-derived estimates and data from fire databases, and determined the associated uncertainty. Fire dates and ignition location(s) were estimated for circa 76% of the total burnt area extent for the five study regions. The ability to estimate fire dates and ignitions from satellite data increased with fire size. The agreement between reported and estimated fire dates was very good for start dates (Model efficiency index, MEF = 0.91) and reasonable for end dates (MEF = 0.73). The spatio-temporal agreement between reported and satellite-derived wildfire ignitions showed temporal lags and distances within 12 h and 2 km, respectively. Uncertainties associated with ignition estimates were generally larger than the disagreements with data reported in fire databases. Our results show how satellite data can contribute to improve information regarding dates and ignitions of large wildfires. This contribution can be particularly relevant in regions with scarce fire information, while in well-documented areas it can be used to complement, potentially detect, and correct inconsistencies in existing fire databases. Using data from other existing and/or upcoming satellites should significantly contribute to reduce errors and uncertainties in satellite-derived fire dates and ignitions, as well as improve coverage of small fires.