Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: South Carolina
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Buchholtz, E.K., J. Kreitler, D. Shinneman, M. Crist, & J. Heinrichs (2023). Assessing large landscape patterns of potential fire connectivity using circuit methods. Landscape Ecology.


Minimizing negative impacts of wildfire is a major societal objective in fire-prone landscapes. Models of fire connectivity can aid in understanding and managing wildfires by analyzing potential fire spread and conductance patterns. We define ‘fire connectivity’ as the landscape’s capacity to facilitate fire transmission from one point on the landscape to another. Our objective was to develop an approach for modeling fire connectivity patterns representing potential fire spread and relative flow across a broad landscape extent, particularly in the management-relevant context of fuel breaks. We applied an omnidirectional circuit theory algorithm to model fire connectivity in the Great Basin of the western United States. We used predicted rates of fire spread to approximate conductance and calculated current densities to identify connections among areas with high spread rates. We compared existing and planned fuel breaks with fire connectivity patterns. Fire connectivity and relative flow outputs were characterized by spatial heterogeneity in the landscape’s capacity to transmit fire. We found that existing fuel break networks were denser in areas with relatively diffuse and impeded flow patterns, rather than in locations with channelized flow. This approach could be paired with traditional fire behavior and risk analyses to better understand wildfire spread as well as direct strategic placement of individual fuel breaks within larger networks to constrain fire spread. Thus, our findings may offer local- to landscape-level support for management actions that aim to disrupt fire spread and mitigate the costs of fire on the landscape.