Wildfires in Florida represent a significant natural hazard to the region, both in terms of environmental impacts and damage to the cultural and economic infrastructure of the region. Previous studies that examined the state as a whole indicate that climate variability (specifically, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation or ENSO) plays a role in wildfire location and intensity. Statewide, there is a marked change in wildfire activity associated with ENSO, and these changes are even more significant when examining the number and intensity of wildfires in years following these ENSO-designated years. However, little work has been done in determining the spatial variability of wildfire occurrence during these periods.
This study uses a GIS to examine wildfire locations as they relate to the status of ENSO. Fires tend to concentrate in a handful of areas and each of these areas show different responses to the ENSO status. In particular, fires in the southwestern Florida area (Ft Myers/Port Charlotte) increase following La Niña years, while they decrease in years following El Niño. The northeastern part of the state (Jacksonville to Daytona Beach), in contrast, displays increases in fire frequency following both El Niño and La Niña years, and decreases following neutral years. This implies that the association between fire frequency and ENSO is more complex than at first believed, and needs to be examined in greater detail.