Indexed on: 16 Apr '17Published on: 16 Apr '17Published in: Science of the Total Environment
The Alpine area is particularly sensitive to climatic and environmental changes that might impact socio-ecosystems and modify the regime of natural hazards. Among them, wildfire is of major importance as it threatens both ecosystems and human lives and infrastructures. Wildfires result from complex interactions between available vegetation fuels, climate and weather, and humans who decide of the land use and are the main source of fire ignitions. The changes in fire weather during the past decades are rather unknown in the French Alps especially due to their complex topography. Moreover, local institutions and managers wonder if the ongoing climate changes might increase fire risk and affect the environmental quality and the different ecosystem services provided by the mountain forests. In this context, we used the national forest fires database together with daily meteorological observations from 1959 to 2015 to investigate the changes in wildfire danger in the French Alps. We analysed the spatial and temporal variations in terms of intensity, frequency, seasonality and window of opportunity of two fire weather indices: the fine fuel moisture code (FFMC) and the fire weather index (FWI) that measure the daily water content of vegetation and the potential intensity of fires, respectively. Our results showed a major contrast between Southern Alps with a high fire weather danger on average and a significant increase in the past decades, and Northern Alps with low to moderate danger on average that increased only at low elevations. This study contributes to the understanding of the consequences of ongoings climate changes on wildfires in the French Alps. It produced high resolution results that account for the topographic and climatic variability of the area. Finally, the maps of the different fire weather components have practical implications for fire management and modelling and for preventing indirect effects of fires on ecosystems and human assets.