Large-scale, dynamic transformations in fuel moisture drive wildfire activity across southeastern Australia


The occurrence of large, high-intensity wildfires requires plant biomass, or fuel, that is sufficiently dry to burn. This poses the question, what is ``sufficiently dry″? Until recently, the ability to address this question has been constrained by the spatiotemporal scale of available methods to monitor the moisture contents of both dead and live fuels. Here we take advantage of recent developments in macroscale monitoring of fuel moisture through a combination of remote sensing and climatic modeling. We show there are clear thresholds of fuel moisture content associated with the occurrence of wildfires in forests and woodlands. Furthermore, we show that transformations in fuel moisture conditions across these thresholds can occur rapidly, within a month. Both the approach presented here, and our findings, can be immediately applied and may greatly improve fire risk assessments in forests and woodlands globally.