SWEDEN – ABSTRACT – The Sala fire in the Västmanland County of central Sweden that burned about 14,000 ha in 2014 has been the largest fire recorded in the modern history of Sweden. To understand the long-term fire history of this area, we dendrochronologically dated fire scars on Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) trees (live and deadwood) to reconstruct the fire cycle and fire occurrence in the area affected by the 2014 fire. We identified 64 fire years, using a total of 378 pine samples.
The earliest reconstructed fire dated back to 1113 AD. The spatial reconstruction extended over the period of 1480–2018 AD. Lower levels of fire activity (fire cycle, FC = 43 years, with the central 90% of the distribution limited by 35 to 57 years) dominated in the earlier period (1480–1690 AD) that was followed by a strong decrease in fire activity since 1700 (FC = 403 years, with 90% of the distribution being within 149 to 7308 years), with a fire-free period between 1756 and 2014.
Sala area, therefore, features the earliest known onset of fire suppression in Scandinavia. The high demand for timber during the peak in mining activities in the study area around the 1700–1800s, accompanied by passive fire suppression policies, were possibly the main drivers of the decline in fire activity. Superposed epoch analysis (SEA) did not show significant departures in the drought proxy during the ten years with the largest area burned between 1480 and1690.
It is unclear whether the result is due to the relatively small area sampled or an indication that human controls of fires dominated during that period. However, significant departures during the following period with low fire activity (1700–1756), which just preceded the last fire-free period, suggested that the climate became an increasingly important driver of fire during the onset of the suppression period.
We speculate that the lack of major firebreaks, the homogenization of forests, and the lack of burned areas with low fuel loads might contribute to the occurrence of the exceptionally large 2014 fire in Sala.