Forest fire challenges in the EU context — Héctor Alfaro Fernández and Jordi Vendrell Flotats

Lecture Theatre 1 -- Rm 106
Life Sciences Building
College Road, Sandy Bay Campus
University of Tasmania
22 Nov 2019

Fire Centre Seminar Series


Global warming, total suppression and changes in land use are leading to increase the impact of forest fires on ecosystems worldwide, as well as changes in fire regimes. The incidence of large, damaging wildfires is a significant and growing problem in many areas of the world.

Large wildfires are the cause of serious ecological, social and economic losses all around the world as well as in Europe and specifically in the Mediterranean basin. Moreover, large fires endanger human lives and cause widespread social alarm.

As more complex scenarios for fire management arise, the operational capacity of fire services is more frequently overwhelmed by fires that exhibit extreme behaviours. Moreover, there is an increased number of Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) communities settled in the path of fires, and thus protecting people’s lives and property becomes a priority. Such scenario has caused fire services to become more reactive and defensive in operational response to face certain risks, i.e. fear trap, as opposed to adopting proactive and strategic decisions to face uncertain risks. Firefighting experience in the Mediterranean region over the last decades demonstrates that traditional fire suppression activities have been successful under certain and predictable scenarios, but fail when it comes to uncertain and dynamic scenarios (e.g. Chile in 2017, California in 2017 and 2018, and Portugal in 2017). The identification of multiple sources of uncertainty (moving away from the fear trap), together with the development of organizational resilience within the response system, become formidable challenges.

The presentation will discuss a methodological approach based on the identification of polygons of fire potential. This is a methodology that has been directly formulated by the fire community and has been already implemented in some parts of Europe and other regions of the world. Polygons of fire potential incorporate uncertainty to the decision-making process in that they enable the fire manager to decide the final result of the fire by identifying what can burn, what can be saved, and what will be lost every time they make a decision. The method consists of depicting the fire spread potential by segregating the landscape into distinct spatial units (polygons), each presenting homogeneous fire behaviour characteristics. Operational possibilities are limited inside polygons, which means that every time that fire enters a polygon
the entire polygon becomes untenable. However, the connectivity between polygons becomes a window of opportunity to stop the fire from spreading from one polygon to another and thus enables the fire manager to decide the final result in terms of fire spread.

Humans always used fire as a tool to regulate nature and traditional use of fire is known in many regions of Europe. This concept requires considering the various aspects of fire, from its use as a planned management practice (prescribed fire) to the initiation and propagation of unplanned fires (wildfires) and to the use of fire in fighting wildfires (suppression fire). A new approach to territorial management and to fire prevention and fighting is indispensable if we are to sustainably attenuate the intensity and severity of fires in Europe. It will require developing new expertise among forest and fire professionals, support and cooperation from the public and rural communities, and funding from multiple levels of government.

About the presenters

HÉCTOR ALFARO FERNÁNDEZ (Infoca, ES) Héctor has been working as Wildland Firefighter since 1999. He studied Forestry Engineering and has a Degree in Forestry and Natural Environment at the University of Castilla La-Mancha (UCLM) in Spain. He has worked for twenty years in different parts of Spain like Team Leader in several Helitacks Crews. Since 2012 is member of the Regional Prescribed Burning Team of Andalusia (ERQUA). Nowadays, He is working like Fire Behaviour Analyst in the Fire Behaviour and Assessment Unit of INFOCA, in Andalusia (Spain).

Jordi VENDRELL FLOTATS (Pau Costa Foundation, ES) is responsible for international cooperation, aiming to bridge first responders and research, at Pau Costa Foundation (PCF) a non-profit
research institution, where he is one of the founders. He has a MSc on Emergency, Crisis Management and International Cooperation, and has a Degree in Geography. Jordi focused his studies on fire weather, the evolution of plume-dominated fires and the prediction of extreme fire behaviour. He worked in the Catalan Fire and Rescue Service, and now he is in charge of R+D Area at PCF. Jordi has participated and organized
several operational exchanges and trainings and implemented strategical and tactical fire analysis in north Africa, Portugal, France, South America and US. At PCF he is working in several projects, like H2020 HEIMDALL, FIRE-IN and GEO-SAFE.