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Fired Up features those who have advanced and contributed to wildfire and bushfire operations, mitigation and prevention, and training and research. The IAWF invites members and the greater wildland fire community to submit recommendations for profiles of individuals or groups to [email protected]

On a mission

Researcher aims to educate residents about wildland fires

by Dylan Bruce

Núria Prat-Guitart leads the project and research area within Spain’s Pau Costa Foundation.

Photo of Nuria Prat
Nuria Prat, Pau Costa Foundation

Peat fires can stealthily smoulder underground for months, all the while igniting blazes above ground and spewing emissions into the atmosphere.

It’s these flammable phenomena that are the speciality of Núria Prat-Guitart, a researcher with the Pau Costa Foundation.

In Northeastern Spain, where the Pyrenees mountain range meets the Mediterranean Sea, lies Catalonia; this forested region is Prat-Guitart’s home.

Prat-Guitart is also a member of the board of directors of the Association for Fire Ecology, and is involved with the PyroLife project, which is a PhD training program for the next generation of fire experts in Europe.

With degrees in geography, biology, and environmental science, Prat-Guitart’s passion for wildfire started with her undergraduate studies of the impact of fire on soils.

“The peculiarities of peat fires attracted my attention as a young fire student,” says Prat-Guitart.

Prat-Guitart’s studies took her to Ireland, where she developed a PhD in peatland fire dynamics at University College Dublin.

“Years before moving to Ireland, I was involved in a research study looking at peat fires in Scotland,” says Prat-Guitart.

“I was fascinated by the fact that despite being flameless and spreading so slowly, peat fires were capable of causing such particular impacts in ecosystems.”

Prat-Guitart joined the Pau Costa Foundation in 2016 and now leads the projects and research area.

“Most of the research I am involved with focuses on consolidating and transferring knowledge from the fire community that is often not structured, or only available in a local language.” 

The Pau Costa Foundation is a non-profit organization with a focus on the prevention and management of forest fires, bringing together researchers, emergency services, and government.

Its namesake, Pau Costa Alcubierre, was a forest fire analyst who died in the Horta de Sant Joan fire in 2009.

The Pau Costa Foundation works to connect fire experts and researchers around the world so that knowledge, experience, and strategy can be shared.

“There is a lot that the fire community can learn from exchanging knowledge with peers around the world,” says Prat-Guitart.

“Wildfires such as those in Australia in 2009, and Chile and Portugal in 2017, are examples of unprecedented situations pushing the fire community to rethink existing models, and to share and learn internationally. The lessons learned from those fires are very valuable for Spain.”

The Spanish fire season is usually contained to the summer months, but it is becoming harder to clearly mark the beginning and end of the season.

“In Spain, like in other regions, the fire season period is expanding and every year there are fires with more extreme behaviours that are more difficult to control,” says Prat-Guitart.

While fires in Spain are usually smaller and of shorter duration than those in other countries, they can often reach communities with intense ferocity shortly after ignition.

Despite the increasing threat of fires, Prat-Guitart says traditional management practices have been abandoned.

“Those lands that once were cultivated terraces around rural towns are now shrub-lands and young forests, which make excellent fuel for intense wildfires,” says Prat-Guitart.

“It is paradoxical that a Mediterranean country that has always had fire in its ecosystems lacks so much risk awareness and fire education.”

Prat-Guitart says there are several initiatives addressing the lack of local awareness about fires in Spain, including the Pau Costa Foundation’s educational program that teaches children about basic fire ecology and forest management.

About the author

Dylan Bruce is a writer from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Contact him at [email protected]