Intentions behind common and risky fires in south-eastern Tanzania

Ellie Wood*, Mercy Mgaya, Christopher Andrews, Kate Schreckenberg, Janet Fisher, Isla Grundy, Casey Ryan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Human-set fires are a crucial component of African savannas, affecting ecosystem structure, carbon emissions, local hazards and livelihoods. Yet, most fire research in these ecosystems focuses on the fire ecology of protected
areas. Research exploring fire regimes in inhabited landscapes remains limited, undermining opportunities for culturally and environmentally sustainable fire management. To address this gap, we used interviews in Tanzanian farming communities and remote sensing to identify intentions behind fire use and the perceived relative frequency and riskiness of fires set for different purposes. We found that the most common ignitions were intentional and important to livelihoods. Burning was adaptive, responsive to environmental conditions, and optimised for the intended outcome with the perceived riskiest fires intentionally spreading uncontrolled. Remote sensing showed that most of the total burned area was accounted for by fires during the late dry season when people burned
for activities, such as field preparation, and when environmental conditions encouraged fire spread. Our findings offer an insight into fire regimes in inhabited landscapes, by exploring how intentions shape the fire regime at the
landscape scale. We discuss how understanding these intentions and local priorities, including adaptive uses of fire, is key to sustainable fire management outside protected areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-135
Number of pages12
JournalAfrican Journal of Range and Forage Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2022


  • fire behaviour, local ecological knowledge, management (natural resources), miombo woodland, remote sensing


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