Wildfire misconceptions and its social and economic impacts

Professor Stefan Doerr and Dr Cristina Santin, Department of Geography, carried out a detailed analysis of global and regional data on fire occurrence, severity and its impacts on society, revealing major misconceptions about wildfire and its social and economic impacts.

Their research, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, demonstrated that:

  • Global area burned has seen an overall slight decline over past decades, despite some notable regional increases. Currently, around 4% of the global vegetated land surface is affected by vegetation fires each year.
  • There is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago.
  • Direct fatalities from fire and economic losses also show no clear trends over the past three decades.

There are, however, some alarming trends in area burned in some regions of the world, such as boreal Canada and the western USA, where a lengthening of the fire season due to increased temperatures has been associated with a recent rise in area burned. This study has attracted substantial media interest, in Europe and North America including radio interviews.