Deciphering the impact of uncertainty on the accuracy of large wildfire spread simulations

Akli Benali, Ana R. Ervilha, Ana C.L. Sá, Paulo M. Fernandes, Renata M.S. Pinto, Ricardo M. Trigo, José M.C. Pereira
Science of the Total Environment 569–570 73–85. doi:

Download PDF


Predicting wildfire spread is a challenging task fraught with uncertainties. ‘Perfect’ predictions are unfeasible since uncertainties will always be present. Improving fire spread predictions is important to reduce its negative environmental impacts. Here, we propose to understand, characterize, and quantify the impact of uncertainty in the accuracy of fire spread predictions for very large wildfires. We frame this work from the perspective of the major problems commonly faced by fire model users, namely the necessity of accounting for uncertainty in input data to produce reliable and useful fire spread predictions. Uncertainty in input variables was propagated throughout the modeling framework and its impact was evaluated by estimating the spatial discrepancy between simulated and satellite-observed fire progression data, for eight very large wildfires in Portugal. Results showed that uncertainties in wind speed and direction, fuel model assignment and typology, location and timing of ignitions, had a major impact on prediction accuracy.We argue that uncertainties in these variables should be integrated in future fire spread simulation approaches, and provide the necessary data for any firemodel user to do so.