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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Cathelijne R. Stoof; Jasper R. de Vries; Marc Castellnou Ribau; Mariña F. Fernández; David Flores; Julissa Galarza Villamar; Nick Kettridge; Desmond Lartey; Peter F. Moore; Fiona Newman-Thacker; Susan J. Prichard; Pepijn Tersmette; Sam Tuijtel; Ivo Verhaar; Paulo M. Fernandes
Publication Date: 2024

Background: As fire regimes are changing and wildfire disasters are becoming more frequent, the term megafire is increasingly used to describe impactful wildfires, under multiple meanings, both in academia and popular media. This has resulted in a highly ambiguous concept.

Approach: We analysed the use of the term ‘megafire’ in popular media to determine its origin, its developments over time, and its meaning in the public sphere. We subsequently discuss how relative the term ‘mega’ is, and put this in the context of an analysis of Portuguese and global data on fire size distribution.

Results: We found that ‘megafire’ originated in the popular news media over 20 years before it appeared in science. Megafire is used in a diversity of languages, considers landscape fires as well as urban fires, and has a variety of meanings in addition to size. What constitutes ‘mega’ is relative and highly context-dependent in space and time, given variation in landscape, climate, and anthropogenic controls, and as revealed in examples from the Netherlands, Portugal and the Global Fire Atlas. Moreover, fire size does not equate to fire impact.

Conclusion: Given the diverse meanings of megafire in the popular media, we argue that redefining megafire in science potentially leads to greater disparity between science and practice. Megafire is widely used as an emotive term that is best left for popular media. For those wanting to use it in science, what constitutes a megafire should be defined by the context in which it is used, not by a metric of one-size-fits-all.

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Citation: Stoof, Cathelijne R.; de Vries, Jasper R.; Ribau, Marc Castellnou; Fernández, Mariña F.; Flores, David; Villamar, Julissa Galarza; Kettridge, Nicholas; Lartey, Desmond; Moore, Peter F.; Newman-Thacker, Fiona; Prichard, Susan J.; Tersmette, Pepijn; Tuijtel, Sam; Verhaar, Ivo; Fernandes, Paulo M. 2024. Megafire: an ambiguous and emotive term best avoided by science. Global Ecology and Biogeography 33(2):341-351.

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  • fire impact
  • fire size
  • megafires
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Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 69086