Forest fire risk maps: a GIS open source application – a case study in Norwest of Portugal
Forest fires are widely recognized as one of the most critical events in global change. Successful fire management depends on effective fire prevention, detection, and presuppression, having an adequate fire suppression capability, and consideration of fire ecology relationships. Geographical information systems (GIS) provide tools to create, transform, and combine georeferenced variables. In Portugal, as in many other countries, it is mandatory that all the municipalities produce forest fire risk maps on an annual basis, following the rules of the Portuguese Forest Authority, a governmental association. This article presents the results of a research project aimed at producing forest fire risk maps in a GIS open source environment in Portugal. The requirements of an open source application are better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in. Three different open source desktop GIS software projects were evaluated: Quantum GIS (QGIS), generalitat valenciana, Sistema d'Informacio Geografica, and Kosmo. Taking into account the skills and experience of the authors, the main advantage of QGIS relies on the easiness and quickness in developing new plug-ins, using Python language. Therefore, this project was developed in QGIS platform and the interface was created in Python. This application incorporates seven procedures under a single toolbar. The production of the forest fire risk map comprises several steps and the production of several maps: probability, susceptibility, hazard, vulnerability, economic value, potential loss, and finally the forest fire risk map. The forest fire risk map comprises five classes: very low risk (dark green), low risk (green), medium risk (yellow), high risk (orange), and very high risk (red). This application was tested in three different municipal governments of the Norwest zone of Portugal. This application has the advantages of grouping in a unique toolbar all the procedures needed to produce forest fire risk maps and is free for the institution/user. Beyond being an open source application, this application may be faster and easier when compared with the GIS proprietary solutions that usually comprise several steps and the use of different software extensions. This work presents several contributions for the area of the GIS open source applications to forest fire risk management.