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A comparative analysis of the use of NOAA-AVHRR NDVI and FWI data for forest fire risk assessment

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Fires are a major hazard to forests in the Mediterranean region, where, on average, half a million hectares of forested areas are burned every year. The assessment of fire risk is therefore at the heart of fire prevention policies in the region. The estimation of forest fire risk often involves the integration of meteorological and other fuel-related variables, leading to an index that assesses the different levels of risk. Two indices frequently used to estimate the level of fire risk are the Fire Weather Index (FWI) and the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). Although a correlation between the number of fires and the level of risk determined by these indices has been demonstrated in previous studies, the analyses focused on the changes in fire risk levels in areas where fires took place. The present study analyses the behaviour of the fire risk indices not only in areas where fires occurred but also in areas where fires did not take place. Specifically, the objective of this work was to compare the potential of the two indices to discriminate different levels of fire risk over large areas. Qualitative and quantitative methods were used to compare the statistical distributions of fire event frequencies with those of fire risk levels. The qualitative method highlights graphically the statistical difference between the values of the indices computed over burnt areas and the overall distribution of the values of the indices. The quantitative method, based on the use of the so-called performance index, was used to evaluate and compare numerically the potential of the indices. The analyses were performed considering very extensive datasets of fire events, satellite data and meteorological data for Spain during a 10-year period. Although the NDVI is assumed to describe the vegetation status as related to fire ignition, the results show conclusively an enhanced performance of the FWI over the NDVI in identifying areas at risk of fires.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: DG Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, TP.261, I-21020 Ispra (VA), Italy 2: ADAI, University of Coimbra, Portugal

Publication date: October 1, 2008

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