Defining extreme wildfire events: Difficulties, challenges, and impacts

Fantina Tedim, Vittorio Leone, Malik Amraoui, Christophe Bouillon, Michael R. Coughlan, Giuseppe M. Delogu, Paulo M. Fernandes, Carmen Ferreira, Sarah McCaffrey, Tara K. McGee, Joana Parente, Douglas Paton, Mário G. Pereira, Luís M. Ribeiro, Domingos X. Viegas, Gavriil Xanthopoulos

Research output: Contribution to journalOther Journal Articlepeer-review

239 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9
Pages (from-to)1-28
Number of pages28
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


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