PRESIDENT’S DESK: A SUMMER OF FIRES
I spent this past summer in Spain watching wildfires spread across borders and challenge the various prevention and suppression efforts that fire and forestry agencies made to reduce loss. As our association shares its new position paper on prescribed burning, global lessons from the past few months will enrich our discussions as we bring the wildfire community together at conferences over the rest of 2022, and guide us as a community into the new year with new tools for success.
The Mediterranean region experienced yet another destructive season of wildfires in Algeria. The same hot and dry winds plaguing Southern Europe fanned fires during mid-August across 14 separate regions of Northeastern Algeria. The fires claimed numerous vacationers in the coastal El Tarf province, where 34 of the 37 fire-related deaths occurred. All this comes following fires in 2021 that claimed 90 lives and burned more than 10.1 million acres of forest lands in the country. At the time of the 2022 fires, the regional media-outlet Al-Jazeera reported that “the situation underscored the perennial criticism that [the country’s capital] Algiers has not invested enough in firefighting technology, including specialized planes, forcing it to seek help from the international community.” Again, the misleading messages that some media share during a wildfire crisis. It is not more planes that are needed to face the fires, but a more complex combination of professional forest and fire management measures adapted to every country’s realities.
Over the same period, a wildfire reignited in the southwest of France around Bordeaux, spreading over 52,000 acres before being controlled and displacing 40,000 people from their homes. Reflecting on the extreme drought conditions of this summer, EFFIS (European Forest Fire Information System) reports 160,000 acres had gone up in flames in France by mid-September, nearly six times the full-year average for 2006-2021.
And, that same week in mid-August, Madrid was blanketed in smoke from a Portuguese wildfire almost 250 miles away. Fire authorities had to inform area residents that there was no fire nearby. That fire in Portugal’s Serra da Estrela National Park burned more than 42,000 acres and led to the evacuation of several villages. This summer was brutal to the Iberian Peninsula, which includes Spain and Portugal, and provides a clear sign that our climate is influencing wildfires and their management, not to mention the extreme temperatures in the UK. The Nature Geoscience Journal said in July that “Climate change has left parts of the peninsula at their driest in 1,200 years.” Spain multiplied the burned area average by 5 times for the same 2006-21 period ( 741,000 acres) and in the east, Romania burned 19 times its yearly average, up to 150,000 ha (370,000 acres)
These fires lay bare the challenges faced by our wildfire community to suppression and prevention, from a drier and heavier fuel-loaded landscape and the impacts of smoke; they remind me of the importance of our association’s focus as a primary global voice for the wildfire community and our goal to tackle contemporary issues toward achieving a sustainable wildland fire paradigm. The IAWF’s new position paper on prescribed burning meets this effort at a very important time for our wildfire community and the landscapes and people we protect. Many articles in this edition of Wildfire reflect upon the position paper and the role that prescribed burning can positively make in healthy landscape management efforts.
I believe the IAWF is uniquely positioned to advance the use of prescribed burning and our wildfire community’s discussion around its value and positive use.
The position paper’s clear calls to action direct us to advocate for the use of prescribed and wildland fire where possible to meet protection- and land- and resource-management objectives; and to manage our natural resources through progressive fuels reduction to increase landscape resilience in the face of climate change; and to educate our communities to accept our co-existence with smoke and wildland fire. This document will guide the IAWF in encouraging our wildfire community to enhance fire-adapted communities and build public understanding around the role of prescribed burning. The paper also calls for the thoughtful prioritization of landscapes that are at the greatest risk for necessary treatments and management objectives. I encourage you all to read the position paper and see how it provides guidance to agencies, our workforce, residents, and the technology and research community.
The next few months provide us with the opportunity to share the value of the IAWF’s position paper to new audiences and within our own wildfire community of operations, management, research, and technology advancement. IAWF is proud to support these upcoming events and I hope to see you at them. The list is pretty impressive!
At the beginning of October, our colleagues at the Association for Fire Ecology and pau Costa Foundation partnered with Regione Toscana and the University of Florence to host a hybrid conference in Florence and online for diverse stakeholders involved in wildfire management. At the end of October, we will gather in Edmonton for the Wildland Fire Canada Conference and smoke forum; this is the rekindling of this bi-annual conference following delays caused by COVID. The United Kingdom Wildfire Conference Nov. 10-11 in Belfast will draw lessons from the UK’s difficult 2022 wildfire season and help shape a more resilient future. Later that week, The 9th International Conference on Forest Fire Research & 17th International Wildland Fire Safety Summit will showcase the latest in forest fire science and technology as attendees meet in Coimbra, Portugal. Finally, IAWF will host the 5th National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy Workshop in Ashville, North Carolina, Nov. 14-18: the discussion on the role of prescribed burning and agency support will be very important to engage in and learn from at this conference.
I believe the IAWF is uniquely positioned to advance the use of prescribed burning and our wildfire community’s discussion around its value and positive use. The position paper on prescribed burning, along with the IAWF’s position paper on climate change that was released in the spring will guide us as a community into the new year with new tools for success. I look forward to 2023 as we lead this charge and expand how we as an association include new people in this effort.
About The Author
Joaquin Ramirez Cisneros is a wildland fire technologist who has been working for the last 25 years to bridge the gap between scientists and end users. In 2013, Ramirez moved to San Diego from Spain, and now works with agencies worldwide trying to convert the best science into actionable tools. Ramirez is the creator of several of the most advanced fire behavior software model implementations and decision support systems, including the Wildfire Analyst and fiResponse software tools. Since 2011, Ramirez has co-ordinated the first European M.S. in Forest Fires (www.masterfuegoforestal.es) with Prof. Rodriguez Francisco y Silva (UCO) and Prof. Domingo Molina (UdL). Ramirez is a founder and active member of the Pau Costa Foundation. He earned his PhD in remote sensing and GIS at the University of Leon in 2003, an M.S. in forestry from the University of Lleida, and his B.S. in forest engineering from the Polytechnical University of Madrid, Spain.