Defining Extreme Wildfire Events: Difficulties, Challenges, and Impacts

Submitted by admin on Mon, 03/05/2018 - 11:55

Every year worldwide some extraordinary wildfires occur, overwhelming suppression
capabilities, causing substantial damages, and often resulting in fatalities. Given their increasing
frequency, there is a debate about how to address these wildfires with significant social impacts,
but there is no agreement upon terminology to describe them. The concept of extreme wildfire event
(EWE) has emerged to bring some coherence on this kind of events. It is increasingly used, often as
a synonym of other terms related to wildfires of high intensity and size, but its definition remains
elusive. The goal of this paper is to go beyond drawing on distinct disciplinary perspectives to
develop a holistic view of EWE as a social-ecological phenomenon. Based on literature review and
using a transdisciplinary approach, this paper proposes a definition of EWE as a process and an
outcome. Considering the lack of a consistent “scale of gravity” to leverage extreme wildfire events
such as in natural hazards (e.g., tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes) we present a proposal of
wildfire classification with seven categories based on measurable fire spread and behavior parameters
and suppression difficulty. The categories 5 to 7 are labeled as EWE.