february 2015

At the VII International Conference on Forest Fire Research this past November in Coimbra, Portugal, there was much talk of the need for a more urgent vision and critical support for wildfire research. Many of these voices were IAWF board members and members, with over a third of the IAWF board in attendance and a nearly equal percentage of Wildfire magazine contributing editors.

Of all the observations on the challenges facing wildfire researchers, I was struck by the closing comments of Albert Simeoni, a conference organizer (plus IAWF board member and WIldfire contributing editor), who said, “I am happy to see how the community is renewing itself. We are looking at what we don’t know and going back to the fundamentals. We are reinventing ourselves.”

This seems an apt bit of advice and commentary for all of us in the wildfire and bushfire communities, from researchers to analysts, from policy-makers to practitioners. And for this issue, as we searched for trends and themes and news to publish, I sense we may have adopted some of Albert’s message.

Returning to the fundamentals and renewal? The cover article, “Learning Together, Burning Together,” tells of a Native American tribe’s return to original burning practices, one which also promises to renew the landscape and perhaps help to reinvent the fire management bureaucracies as well. Later in this issue, we preview a documentary, The Big Burn, that revisits the a century-old debate about the role of fire (and fire managers) in the landscape, which resulted in part with taking fire out of the hands of the original practitioners.

Reinvention? No profession can prosper without thoughtful recruiting of new members and ideas. This issue closes with an “After Action” column, a reflection from a first-year firefighter on what it means to join our ranks, and features the second in a series of essays by Ivan Pupulidy, the US Forest Service Director of Learning, on “Novices, Experts and Errors: Toward a Safer Fire Ground?”

From history and practice we also examine trends in applied fire science and technology, previewing the current issue of our sister publication, the International Journal of Wildland Fire, and we continue our look at fireline innovations with articles from Alaska and Australia on the potential and challenges of unmanned aerial systems.

And what we don’t know? We offer a new concept, the Social Watch Out situation (so easy to recognize, now that it’s named) and we continue to explore wildfire innovations.

Amid all these stories, one lesson seems to reappear — from the Karuk Tribe of Northern California to a re-vision of the 1910 fires to the lessons from Portugal — that we are all, at heart, Students of Fire. A phrase (and an IAWF initiative) also mentioned at the closing of the conference, and a topic we’ll explore again, along with more lessons and stories from Portugal, and from wherever we are reinventing the art, craft, and science of fire management.

As Albert suggests, we hope you’re happy to read about our many communities as we renew and reinvent ourselves, one fire season into the next.