Assessing fire risk using Monte Carlo simulations of fire spread

Yohay Carmel, Shlomit Paz, Faris Jahashan, Maxim Shoshany

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding the spatial pattern of fire is essential for Mediterranean vegetation management. Fire-risk maps are typically constructed at coarse resolutions using vegetation maps with limited capacity for prescribing prevention activities. This paper describes and evaluates a novel approach for fire risk assessment that may produce a decision support system for actual fire management at fine scales. FARSITE, a two-dimensional fire growth and behavior model was activated, using ArcView VBA code, to generate Monte Carlo simulations of fire spread. The study area was 300 km2 of Mt. Carmel, Israel. FARSITE fuel models were adjusted for Mediterranean conditions. The simulation session consisted of 500 runs. For each simulation run, a calendar date, fire length, ignition location, climatic data and other parameters were selected randomly from known distributions of these parameters. Distance from road served as a proxy for the probability of ignition. The resulting 500 maps of fire distribution (the entire area burnt in a specific fire) were overlaid to produce a map of 'hotspots' and 'cold spots' of fire frequency. The results revealed a clear pattern of fires, with high frequency areas concentrated in the northwestern part. The spatial pattern of the fire frequency map bears partial resemblance to the fuel map, but seems to be affected by several other factors as well, including the location of urban areas, microclimate, topography and the distribution of ignition locations (which is affected by road pattern). These results demonstrate the complexities of fire behavior, showing a very clear pattern of risk level even at fine scales, where neighboring areas have different risk levels due to combinations of vegetation cover, topography, microclimate and other factors. Comparing the distribution of historic fires in the region against the map of simulated fire frequency indicated that most fires tended to coincide with higher risk levels. This fact supports the hypothesis that simulated fire frequency may serve as a reliable surrogate for fire risk. Thus, Monte Carlo simulations of a fire spread model may produce high-resolution fire-risk maps that could be used for long-term strategic planning of fire prevention activities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)370-377
Number of pages8
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - 20 Jan 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by a KKL Forest Research Grant. Data on historic fires were kindly provided by Lea Wittenberg, Dan Malkinson, and Naama Tesler.


  • Fire behavior
  • Fire management
  • Fire risk
  • Fire spread model
  • Monte Carlo simulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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