Highlighting biome-specific sensitivity of fire size distributions to time-gap parameter using a new algorithm for fire event individuation

Duarte Oom, Pedro C. Silva, Ioannis Bistinas, José M.C. Pereira

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Detailed spatial-temporal characterization of individual fire dynamics using remote sensing data is important to understand fire-environment relationships, to support landscape-scale fire risk management, and to obtain improved statistics on fire size distributions over broad areas. Previously, individuation of events to quantify fire size distributions has been performed with the flood-fill algorithm. A key parameter of such algorithms is the time-gap used to cluster spatially adjacent fire-affected pixels and declare them as belonging to the same event. Choice of a time-gap to define a fire event entails several assumptions affecting the degree of clustering/fragmentation of the individual events. We evaluate the impact of different time-gaps on the number, size and spatial distribution of active fire clusters, using a new algorithm. The information produced by this algorithm includes number, size, and ignition date of active fire clusters. The algorithm was tested at a global scale using active fire observations from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). Active fire cluster size distributions were characterized with the Gini coefficient, and the impact of changing time-gap values was analyzed on a 0.5° cell grid. As expected, the number of active fire clusters decreased and their mean size increased with the time-gap value. The largest sensitivity of fire size distributions to time-gap was observed in African tropical savannas and, to a lesser extent, in South America, Southeast Asia, and eastern Siberia. Sensitivity of fire individuation, and thus Gini coefficient values, to time-gap demonstrate the difficulty of individuating fire events in tropical savannas, where coalescence of flame fronts with distinct ignition locations and dates is very common, and fire size distributions strongly depend on algorithm parameterization. Thus, caution should be exercised when attempting to individualize fire events, characterizing their size distributions, and addressing their management implications, particularly in the African savannas.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Active fire
  • Algorithm
  • Fire event
  • Fire size distribution
  • Gini coefficient
  • Time-gap


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