The answer is blowing in the wind
Fire management is facing two extreme views (see a discussion and references in PDF):
- Large fires are controlled by fuel, and are the consequence of the fire suppression policy (build-up of fuels). Thus to reduce fire danger, fuel control is needed (the patch mosaic model)
- Large fires are controlled by climate (mainly severe droughts) and thus fuel management is of little relevance
A recent paper is conclusive in that in California, large chaparral fires are controlled by climate and they burn through a vegetation mosaic of differetn ages since fire, and thus in landscapes under severe weather conditions there is little hope fuel treatments will provide barriers to fire spread. Strong dry winds, Santa Ana winds, are driving many of the large chaparral fires (Figure below).
Keeley, J.E. and P.H. Zedler. 2009. Large, high intensity fire events in southern California shrublands: debunking the fine-grained age-patch model. Ecological Applications 19:69-94. [journal] [pdf] [brief for managers]
Santa Ana wind-driven fires (MODIS, 26 Oct 2003)
Fires in the Mediterranean basin: The question is weather these results also apply to other Mediterranean regions. The role of droughts in recent fires (e.g., see the 2007 European heat wave and the consequences on large fires in Greece and Croatia; Figures below) and the importance of dry winds in many fires (e.g., ponientes in eastern Spain) suggest that a similar process may be occurring in the Mediterranean basin, although due to the long and intense land use in this area, fuel structure may also need to be considered for understanding some past fire regime changes [pdf].
Temperature anomalies in Europe, summer 2007
Fires in Greece, summer 2007