Forecasting fire risk with machine learning and dynamic information derived from satellite vegetation index time-series

Yaron Michael, David Helman, Oren Glickman, David Gabay, Steve Brenner, Itamar M. Lensky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fire risk mapping – mapping the probability of fire occurrence and spread – is essential for pre-fire management as well as for efficient firefighting efforts. Most fire risk maps are generated using static information on variables such as topography, vegetation density, and fuel instantaneous wetness. Satellites are often used to provide such information. However, long-term vegetation dynamics and the cumulative dryness status of the woody vegetation, which may affect fire occurrence and spread, are rarely considered in fire risk mapping. Here, we investigate the impact of two satellite-derived metrics that represent long-term vegetation status and dynamics on fire risk mapping – the long-term mean normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) of the woody vegetation (NDVIW) and its trend (NDVIT). NDVIW represents the mean woody density at the grid cell, while NDVIT is the 5-year trend of the woody NDVI representing the long-term dryness status of the vegetation. To produce these metrics, we decompose time-series of satellite-derived NDVI following a method adjusted for Mediterranean woodlands and forests. We tested whether these metrics improve fire risk mapping using three machine learning (ML) algorithms (Logistic Regression, Random Forest, and XGBoost). We chose the 2007 wildfires in Greece for the analysis. Our results indicate that XGBoost, which accounts for variable interactions and non-linear effects, was the ML model that produced the best results. NDVIW improved the model performance, while NDVIT was significant only when NDVIW was high. This NDVIW–NDVIT interaction means that the long-term dryness effect is meaningful only in places of dense woody vegetation. The proposed method can produce more accurate fire risk maps than conventional methods and can supply important dynamic information that may be used in fire behavior models.

Original languageEnglish
Article number142844
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 10 Apr 2021


  • Fire
  • Machine learning
  • Mediterranean
  • NDVI
  • Risk map
  • Time series

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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