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Fewer fires in Africa these days

How flames spread, not how frequently people start them, controls burning on the continent

Africa, whose iconic savanna landscapes were shaped by fire, actually has fewer burns today than thousands of years ago, a new study suggests.

“There’s less wildfire in Africa than there has been in the last 4,000 to 40,000 years,” says Sally Archibald, an ecologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria, South Africa who led the team that did the research. The work appears online December 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research also suggests that small changes in the landscape, such as how many roads cut across a grassland, can have big effects on how fire behaves.

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