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Forest understory fires are an increasingly important cause of forest impoverishment in Amazonia, but little is known of the landscape characteristics and climatic phenomena that determine their occurrence. We developed empirical functions relating the occurrence of understory forest fires to landscape features near Paragominas, a 35-yr-old ranching and logging center in eastern Amazonia. An historical sequence of maps of forest understory fire was created based on field interviews with local farmers and Landsat TM images. Several landscape features that might explain spatial variation in the occurrence of understory fires were also mapped and co-registered for each of the sample dates, including: forest fragment size and shape, forest impoverishment through logging and understory fire, sources of ignition (settlements and charcoal pits), roads, forest edges, and others. The spatial relationship between forest understory fire and each landscape characteristic was tested by regression analyses. Fire probability models were then developed for various combinations of landscape characteristics. The analyses were conducted separately for years of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which are associated with severe drought in eastern Amazonia, and non-ENSO years. Most (91%) of the forest area that burned during the 10-yr sequence caught fire during ENSO years, when severe drought may have increased both forest flammability and the escape of agricultural management fires. Forest understory fires were associated with forest edges, as reported in previous studies from Amazonia. But the strongest predictor of forest fire was the percentage of the forest fragment that had been previously logged or burned. Forest fragment size, distance to charcoal pits, distance to agricultural settlements, proximity to forest edge, and distance to roads were also correlated with forest understory fire. Logistic regression models using information on fragment degradation and distance to ignition sources accurately predicted the location of >80% of the forest fires observed during the ENSO event of 1997-1998. In this Amazon landscape, forest understory fire is a complex function of several variables that influence both the flammability and ignition exposure of the forest

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