IAWF Issue Papers

The Board of Directors of the International Association of Wildland Fire have developed a range of Issue Papers that engage discussion of the key issues facing our profession today: Extreme Fires, Fire Suppression, Competing Resources and International Cooperation.

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Extreme Fires


During the 21st Century wildfires globally are becoming increasingly deadly and destructive. It is not just an increase in the size of fires that is being observed, but a steep increase in impacts encompassing a high number of human fatalities, homes and structures destroyed by the thousands, and an upward trend in smoke exposure related to human health.

In recent decades, beginning in the late 1990’s, we have seen an increase of difficult fire seasons — more frequently overall, and in landscapes and seasons where such difficult fires were rareSignals of the impact of climate change on fires started in 1997, starting with more than a decade long drought in SE part of Victoria, and with significant peat fires in Indonesia that same year.

The United States started to experience frequent significant fire seasons starting in 2000 when large number of resources came from Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand. These large movements of resources have become a norm since 2000 as fire seasons have become more severe compared to previous decades.

By 2002, “megafires became a norm in southern Australia. Unfortunate examples of recent very high impact events include Portugal (twice in 2017), California (in 2017 and 2018), and Greece in 2018. Swiss Re reports that 2017 was the costliest year on record for wildfire insured losses ($14B USD). Three of the top 20 costliest world insurance losses in 2017 were related to wildfire.

Why the Transition to Extreme Fires

This transition to extreme fires appears correlated with three primary trends.

  1. Climate change is often cited as a cause of this increase in wildfire activity. Increased temperature (and subsequently drier atmosphere) relates to a reduction of dead fuel moisture via the equilibrium moisture content. Warmer temperatures increase plant evapotranspiration and reduces soil water uptake, thus reducing live fuel moisture. While weather drives fire behavior, climate enables fire, particularly when regional climates experience more erratic phases — with longer periods of wet for fuel growth and dry for fuel flammability.
  2. Abundant vegetation is climate related, but for many places heavy fuel loads are also a function of past and current land management practices. Fire exclusion over long periods allows for increased fuel density, provides for a ladder of fuels, and during extreme environmental conditions enables extreme fire behavior. Yet with both climate change and land management practices in mind, “global area burned appears to have overall declined over past decades, and there is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago” (Doerr and Santín, 2016).
  3. The rising trend in destructive fires has a third component in addition to climate and fuels – people are moving into fire and fire is coming to people. In many places, there is a shifting increase of population density into areas that are naturally fire prone – places where fire is known to have occurred for centuries and thousands of years. In other places, people are abandoning land that was managed and thus allowing it to go wild, with subsequent impact on fuels management. These locations are often referred to as a “wildland-urban interface” or a “rural-urban interface,” and “interface” is sometimes referred to as “intermix.” Areas where impacts of extreme fire may occur include: building next to or in a forested region; housing abutting grass and shrubland; communities near abandoned farmland; and firestorms entering deep into urban developments.

Based on this analysis of factors, it is suggested that there is not a single cause to today’s extremedeadly and destructive wildfires, but rather a triangle of three factors – climate, fuels, and people. These are not mutually exclusive, though in fact all three are humandriven when considering a warming climate, fire exclusion, and population densities that not only live in fire prone areas but are the primary cause of ignitions.

ISS Photo Mendocino Fires 43043595395_0c49a510c7_o-web.png
Wildfires in the Mendocino National Forest
(iss056e126709 – Aug. 4, 2018). Examples of extreme wildfires are seen in northern California and near the San Francisco Bay Area as the International Space Station orbited 252 miles above the United States.
A Dialogue on Extreme Fires

We propose a number of key questions related to climate, fuels, and people. One or more answers are provided, based on input from IAWF review of this issue and its related topics,but we recognize that there are varying viewpoints and perspectives.

We invite additional responses, and hope to engage ideas and insights as part of a broader discussion among the international wildfire community.

Key Questions for IAWF Membership
Q 1. What are the geographic climate trends that are potentially associated with changes in wildfire activity?
  • Response: There are more frequent periods of unstable atmospheric conditions resulting in high winds, rapid fire growth, extreme fire behavior, and convective storms that provide lightning for ignitions.
  • Response: There has been a significant decrease of winter rainfall in SE Australia which leads to earlier onset of fire seasons.
  • Response: An increase of night-time warming temperature has been observed globally.
Q 2. What is being observed in terms of changes in the fire environment? In particular, how are weather and climate extremes being manifested in wildfire?
  • Response: Fuels in many geographic locations are drier in relation to temperature warming, and thus more flammable.
Q 3. What can be said about the extent of 21st Century fire extremes compared to the 20th Century?
  • Response: While extreme fires and seasons have occurred in the past, they now occur more frequently.
  • Response: The frequency and severity of heat events has increased which has a major impact on population (heatrelated deaths) and dryness (availability) of fuel.
Q. 1. How are fuels different today than a century ago, and if different, what are the likely reasons?
  • Response: In Australia, vegetation that grows back after large, severe fires has a different structure to the original vegetation. It becomes very grassy and shrubby with more open canopy which leads to quicker drying and also fires burn quicker to it. That is especially noticeable in wet forests.
  • Response: In some regions there has been observed an increase in vegetation mortality related to hotter drought conditions.
Q 2. Given a changing climate and potential human health impacts (e.g., from smoke), what strategies can be employed to manage fuels?
  • Response: Mechanical treatment will need to be explored, especially closer to communities.
  • Response: The current debate about smoke impacts are based on comparing prescribed fire smoke with no smoke. As ‘no smoke’ is not a real option (we will have more wildland fires in the future), the debate needs to be shifted to find the right balance of treatments to minimise risks to life, health and other values from fires and also from prolonged smoke events.
Q 1. What are viable actions that can be undertaken to help mitigate against home loss and public safety?
  • Response: The current design for expansion of cities and towns transfers the risk onto land and fire managers. The only proactive lever that land and fire managers have is land use planning. The changes to use of land should include a significant consideration of hazards that may impact on those new settlements/suburbs that happen due to population growth. Smarter design of those suburbs, ex-urbs, villages and related community growth need to incorporate green buffers such as golf courses and other sport fields, and agricultural and/or managed fuel breaks that will provide a better protection to developments than the current building of houses right against and within the vegetation.
  • Response: Building standards and codes need to be improved to make houses more fire resistant, including potential inclusion of roof sprinkler systems.
Q 2. How does management communication to the public need to change to reflect the new paradigm of fire on the landscape?
  • Response: The public needs to learn to live with fires in a similar way it accepted reality of other hazards such as floods, storm surges, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. Our communication needs to reflect this and consider that the community is not homogenous, but a group that is diverse in education, social capital, age and racial/cultural backgroundtherefore, in order to have impact, our communication activities and messaging need to consider these differences.
  • Response: Currently we are constantly reporting on fires that we are successfully suppressing that do not cause any damage (which is around 98% in the United States). That has built community expectations that we could do the same for the remaining 2% if we can just get better, have more resources, have access to larger aircraft, etc. We need to educate the community and governments on how fires at the extreme end require not just more resources but vastly different resources, skills, and approaches to planning and education.
Regional extremes
Q 1. What is the regional extent of extreme fire and what are the primary driving and/or enabling factors?
  • Response: The geographical extent of population expansion increases every year. More and more people are moving into areas that are fire prone. Most of these people have no experience living in such environments, which creates an increased risk.
Q 2. How do today’s extreme events compare to known historical fire?
  • Response: They are more frequent, and because of housing and other values at risk and increased flammable vegetation, these extreme events require changes in suppression tactics and in strategic planning.

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Doerr SH, Santín C. 2016 Global trends in wildfire and its impacts: perceptions versus realities in a changing world. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150345.http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2015.0345

Background – Prior Policy Paper

“Reduce wildfire risks or pay more for fire disasters.” Policy Paper. International Association of Wildland Fire, Association for Fire Ecology, The Nature Conservancy.

Wildfire Magazine. Fall 2015. https://www.iawfonline.org/article/reduce-wildfire-risks-or-pay-more-for-fire-disasters/

Full Paper, April 16, 2015: https://fireecology.org/Reduce-Wildfire-Risks-or-Well-Pay-More-for-Fire-Disasters/

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What are your ideas on Extreme Fires?

You can contribute your response at any time via our IAWF Twitter, Facebook feeds or via email.

Share your ideas with us:

Use hashtag ExtremeFires so we hear your voice.




Changes in Fire Suppression Tactics and Strategies

This is the second of a series of Issue Papers published by the International Association of Wildland Fire board to generate dialogue on key issues facing our profession today.


Forecasters continue to predict drying and warming trends across the world where wildfires continue to be a problem. Fire seasons lengthen, fire affected landscape pushes into values at risk, and air quality is compromised. The purpose of this Issue paper exploring “Changes in fire suppression and strategies” is to stimulate discussion among IAWF membership (and those we work with and serve) about new ways to protect values and fight increasingly challenging fires, including the consideration of suppression strategies and tactics.


We propose a number of key questions related to suppression tactics and strategies.

We invite additional responses and hope to engage ideas and insights as part of a broader discussion among the international wildfire community.

In some cases, we’ve gathered some initial responses to the questions posed based on input from the IAWF review of the issue and related topics, but we recognize that there are varying viewpoints and perspectives. In other cases, the slate is blank. In every case, we hope to provoke ideas and insights as part of a broader discussion among the international wildfire community.

Contribute your perspective by emailing your thoughts to [email protected] with “suppression” in the subject line.

Tactics of Fighting Wildland Fire

1) What are the tactical options that are under-utilized when we think about getting more fire on the landscape?

Response: Rapid detection and initial attack with sufficient weight of attack are increasingly important. Are we making the best use of satellites to tell us where fires are and how best to access them?

2) In many organizations (such as US federally managed lands), suppression is successful nearly 98% of the time. Yet the tactics, strategies, and tools that make us successful 98% of the time are not useful in the other 2%. More resources are not going to help in this 2%. What strategies and tactics are needed for this 2%? Are we doing a good job training the current and next generation to recognize when it’s happening and how to respond to it?

Response: Notwithstanding this, the Standard Fire Order # 10 says “Fight fire aggressively, having provided for safety first.” Maybe there needs to be a new Standard Fire Order that says something like: In extreme fire behavior, your best efforts may be ineffective. Stepping back and telling people to get out of harm’s way might be the most effective strategy.

Response: Large and Very Large Air Tankers are now common on large fires. In many jurisdictions, the need is driven by media and public demand, where you are seen as “unprepared” unless you have a VLAT on call. Do we really understand how effective they are? What is their return on investment and do we truly evaluate their effectiveness? What are their limits? What does this mean to crews who are on the ground? Are the crews supporting aircraft? Or is it the other way around?

3) Because of more extreme events and more structures in fire areas, you can’t do direct perimeter control. What are our other options?

Response: The idea that we need to do perimeter control for every fire is incorrect. We actually have a wide tactical response spectrum and only deal with a small portion of that spectrum. These aren’t alternatives, because they have always been there. We tend to first think about perimeter control, but increasingly we won’t have enough resources to do that. We need to look at other tactical responses—partial control, area management, herding/turning the fire, checking it, evacuations, etc.

Issue Paper Suppression Zimmerman_Fire_Efficiency_Dynamics.png
What our current state of affairs in fire management looks like, circa 2016. From the “President’s Desk” column by Tom Zimmerman, “Improving wildland fire management strategies,” in Wildfire Magazine, February 2016. https://www.iawfonline.org/article/improving-wildland-fire-management-strategies/.
Photo credit: Tom Zimmerman

Managing Fire across the Landscape

Pyrocumulus Cloud or Pyrocumulonimbus ice capping at +-25k feet over the Mazatzal Wilderness during the Willow Fire (July 2004) near Payson, AZ. Shot from Mt Ord. A velum is visible just below the top (the white veil)
PHOTO: Eric Neitzel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31292202.

4) If we want to manage fire across the landscape, how do we reconcile competing land management missions between different jurisdictions and priorities – such as provincial/regional and local? Public and private? County/state/federal (in the US)? Town and village, agricultural and conservation?

Response: In the United States, land use priorities at the state level may conflict with federal land use priorities, and federal agencies are also in conflict. For instance, a federal land management agency may want to increase prescribed burning, however this conflicts with federal air quality mandates. We need to reconcile or acknowledge these differences if we want to manage fire across the landscape.

Response: In the US the emphasis is on risk management. There is an increased focus by federal agencies to put more fire on the landscape and this increases the tension between agencies with different missions (federal, state and local each with a different emphasis on fighting fire more aggressively, directly than other agencies).

Response: Australia also sees tensions among agencies, especially when it comes to health and the environment. When conflicts in management objectives occur, control priorities become an important framework to resolve those issues. The primacy of life is always the first priority.

5) With the severe drought, we are seeing boreal forests succumb to fire. This results in large peat fires (Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada, Russia). Are our peat firefighting techniques proven? Do we need more research there?

6) If resources are more limited given current directions, what does that mean for strategy and tactics? Should we be thinking about what we can accomplish differently in a more resource-constrained world?

Response: When the US is at Preparedness Level 5, resources are scarce. This means we engage in more point protection of values at risk and area protection, which limits where all-out suppression activity can take place. This creates a vicious cycle of an ever-escalating situation that puts responders back on their heels and places them at risk. Decision space is limited based on resource availability, which means strategy and tactics are limited. Is the public aware of the decreased funding to fire science and research?

Politics and Fire

7) How do you establish management objectives that meet the multiple expectations we have for a fire (ecosystems, local populations, air quality, future fire risk)?

Response: Suppression is very reactive tactically without thinking about the strategic implications at a larger scale. We may need to sacrifice some houses for other values at risk (VAR) with higher priority. We need to think about the problem in a different way. Should we ignore 10 houses to protect the other 1000? We race to protect the house rather than find the head of the fire. The instinct of first responders is to protect homes from burning. But we can’t prove the counter-factual of letting 10 houses go in order to protect a larger number of VAR. This is very challenging politically.

8) What metrics could we use to reflect changing fire goals in management? How do you measure success? How do you measure the positive impact of suppression; The number of houses saved vs. lost, the number of acres restored vs. lost, the number of people who went home safe vs. injured, etc.?

Response: Fire success metrics are focusing on the wrong thing. Response time to fire is a measurement in parts of Australia rather than looking at the longer-term risk and how it should be managed.

Response: Percent containment is not a good metric. Percent of the fire contained before 5 hectares. Wildfire use would actually mean that number would go down and it would be positive. We need to change the metrics to reflect new goals and attention. We measure the number of acres burned rather than the severity of the acres burned. We need an impact measure that looks at severity, water yield, and quality, carbon storage, ecosystem functions disrupted or not acres burned.

Response: What are the expectations of governments, the community and industry (including the insurance industry) for success? How are we able to influence these expectations? In Australia (and elsewhere) there is a lot of buzz around the term “resilience.” But what does a resilient person/household, community, or business look like? What do we need to do to strengthen community resilience?

Response: Globally over the last half a century we have seen that successful suppression also perpetuates the fuel problem and therefore makes future fires more severe and harder to control. Possibly a better measure would be around what has been saved and how overall risk has decreased as a result of fire management including suppression activities.

Suppression Efforts in the WUI

9) How should we be thinking of fire-fighting in and outside the WUI?

Response: In Australia (and perhaps in the US and Canada) there needs to be greater recognition of land management agencies. As we witnessed in Greece, the National Forest Service lost control of forest firefighting to the Hellenic (Urban) fire service. In some cases, urbanized fire services do not have the appropriate skills, techniques, supervision or equipment to tackle large fast-moving wildfires. Evidence of this can be seen in many parts of the globe, including in recent fires in Australia, Russia, Spain, Greece, and Portugal.

Bringing up The Next Generation of Leaders

10) How do we get smarter, faster in the training of the next generation of leaders?

Response: We are experiencing a skills deficit. There is a loss of skills through retirements and monetary losses. We have rigid systems to train Type 1 commanders (takes 30 years). Experience is not necessarily a good indicator of ability. We need more capable people coupled with systems and cultures that encourage and support people to take on more leadership roles. We have a very linear system. If the government freezes hiring then it creates a gap in the personnel curve in the future.

Response: We need to acknowledge that 98% of wildfires are dealt with very well using true, tried, and tested means. So it is important to recognize long-accepted methods and keep teaching and practicing them. We need to promote excellence in trail construction; dry firefighting; back-burning and burning out; use of engines/equipment and hoselay drills. We also need to recognize fire weather and fire regimes are changing in many parts of the world, largely due to changes in land cover and climate.

Response: With so much technology and robotics, why haven’t we seen “robo-firefighters.” We need to step up our efforts to take human firefighters out of harm’s way. Robotics should help.

Response: Are we dealing with Lessons and Lessons Learned adequately? How do we ensure that a lesson identified in northern Spain is picked up and learned by the fire manager in Scotland, Canada, Indonesia, China, and New Zealand? Is there scope for a global knowledge hub?

Response: Should we consider creating more options for fast-track training by providing opportunities during alternating northern-southern hemisphere seasons? As there is always a busy season somewhere on the Globe that would potentially allow us to provide a “30-year experience” in 10 to 15 years.

11) What are the workforce implications of having a fire year instead of a fire season?

Response: As the “wildfire problem” increases across the globe, we need to get better and faster at moving firefighters and incident management resources from one hemisphere to another. The downside is, with the increasing length of fire seasons, there may develop an overlap where there is competition for resources (boots on the ground, incident personnel, and scarce resources such as aircraft). This could present an increase in firefighter fatigue and burn-out (pardon the pun), and longer-term issues regarding recruitment of volunteer and community-based resources where ongoing demands are seen as excessive.

More information

Headwaters Economics. “Summary: Wildfire Costs, New Development, and Rising Temperatures.” April 2016.https://headwaterseconomics.org/wildfire/fire-research-summary/

National Interagency Fire Center. “Federal Firefighting Costs (Suppression Only).” https://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/fireInfo_documents/SuppCosts.pdf .

Karin L. Riley, Matthew P. Thompson, Joe H. Scott and Julie W. Gilbertson-Day. “A Model-Based Framework to Evaluate Alternative Wildfire Suppression Strategies.”Resources/2018, /7, 4; doi:10.3390/resources7010004 www.mdpi.com/journal/resources . https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_journals/2018/rmrs_2018_riley_k001.pdf .

Zimmerman, Thomas. “President’s Desk: Improving-wildland-fire-management-strategies.” Wildfire Magazine, February 2016. https://www.iawfonline.org/article/improving-wildland-fire-management-strategies/ .

Competing Priorities and Demands

IAWF’s third Issue-Dialogue Paper focuses on competing and increasing demands on the focus and activities of wildfire professionals and community members, and the prioritizing and commitment of fiscal resources. How can we balance institutional, social, economic and political needs – this competition for resources and time — to best manage our evolving fire challenge?

A community response, fighting bushfires outside of Melbourne, Victoria (AU), circa 1962. The fire challenge has changed, but has our community fire contract evolved to keep pace? Melbourne Sun newspaper. Public domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1962_bushfires_-_Melbourne_Sun_Newspaper.jpg


The issues surrounding wildland fire are uniquely different from other landscape management issues. A review of what makes this challenge so unique includes:

Wildfire and bushfire are disruptive events. Wildland fire events can be sudden, disruptive, and can directly impact communities.

Wildfire crosses boundaries. Wildland fire affects and cuts across a broad suite of other landscape features and values.

Visible … The problem is visible when wildland fire cuts across the wildland-urban interface (WUI), and increasingly also visible outside the WUI.

Yet periodic … Wildland fire tends to be periodic. Between fire events, the prominence of the issue wanes and commitment and effort erodes.

A single solution isn’t enough. In the eyes of many (including legislators and governments), the solution is seen to be more money for response and fire suppression rather than for landscape-scale treatment, prescribed fire, community education, prevention, co-production and mitigation, as well as the research that supports evaluates this range of solutions. There are many reasons that this one-tiered approach is selected to solve a complex set of problems, including:

1. Wildfire management is very complex. This is especially true for prevention. Without devoting the time to gain an in-depth balanced knowledge, legislators and governments (and likewise, citizens) can be misguided toward simplistic solutions.

2. Fire suppression has immediately visible results, whereas successful prevention leads to fewer and less destructive fires, and hence we’re more likely to forget about ongoing fire risk.

3. Fire suppression, as it costs more and involves more technological resources, is likely to receive much more lobbying by interested providers of such resources/services.

4. It is more convenient for citizens to favor strong suppression which is mostly done by professionals than to accept the shared responsibility associated with prevention.

Fire as add-on. In some jurisdictions, wildland fire is an “add-on” to agency staff roles and responsibilities.

Funding and documenting long-term success. Wildland fire mitigation is (generally) recognized to work under certain conditions. The challenge is getting funding and commitment that results in landscape outcomes and actions on the ground, which need to be practical and have tangible results that can be clearly reported on.

A need for shared stories. There is room for a broader narrative – focusing on mitigation, shared responsibility and community resilience and economic cost (and consequences) of uncontrolled wildland fires.

Unique skills. Wildland fire managers need a unique set of skills and capabilities that encompass both the natural and built landscapes within wildfire prone areas.

Key Questions For IAW Membership

We propose a number of key questions related to suppression tactics and strategies. We invite additional responses, and hope to engage your ideas and insights as part of a broader discussion. We have gathered initial responses to the questions posed below, based on input from IAWF review of this issue and related topics, but we recognize that there are varying viewpoints and perspectives. We hope to provoke ideas and insights as part of a broader discussion among the international wildfire community.

Contribute your perspective by emailing your thoughts to [email protected] with “competing priorities” in the subject line.

Climate Change And Global Fire Trends

1) A changing climate and severe fire weather is resulting in a greater area of wildland fire vulnerability and greater frequency and severity. What will the wildland fire challenges be in 50 years’ time?

Response: Climate models suggest that temperature projections are trending toward the upper end of ranges of what the models predict. If so, this would mean anticipated temperature increases in the range of 6-8 degrees for 2-3 degrees c. If these projections are accurate, then additional resources will be needed (or existing resources will need to be prioritized) to address the challenges that will come with how climate change influences severe weather, which is associated with wildland fire.

2) Increasingly a global phenomenon: Changes in climate, in particular the increased occurrence of drought and severe heat is resulting in wildland fire becoming a problem in parts of the globe where (in living memory) it has previously not been an issue. Parts of Europe, including boreal forests, are now susceptible to severe fire events and con-sequences. How do we ensure that nations collaborate and support each other as wildland fire risk increases and eventuates?

Response: As fire seasons lengthen and extend into a full fire year, the historical ability to share resources from the northern to the southern hemispheres and vice versa may be compromised. When all national resources are allocated during the peak of fire sea-son, what resources will be available to share regionally and internationally? Engaging Our Communities

3) How do we frame a narrative about wildland fire that looks to longer term landscape outcomes? This includes new perspectives on wildfire prevention, mitigation, community resilience, consequence and landscape recovery activities (as distinct from short-term response and suppression activities)?

Response: Better modeling is needed to show changes in landscape over time; estimated losses in the future that looks into movement of population, changes in vegetation, changes in climate, different management option such as investment in mitigation vs. suppression, etc. Response: This argument will eventually have to be won based on economics, as the suppression and recovery costs will by far exceed costs required to educate communities, undertake mitigation works and improve land use planning controls. Response: In addition to economics the rising number of fatalities and damages to property is likely to engage the will of people to act for protecting themselves by participating in prevention efforts. Development in WUI areas must be limited and adhere to high construction standards. Unsafe houses constructed with burnable materials must stop being built – these are difficult to protect now and under the expected changes in climate it is questionable that they would be defensible in the future. However, even in Southern Europe where homes are generally built with non-burnable materials, weak points in the construction (e.g. roofing) and a public unprepared for conflagration have resulted in huge numbers of deaths in Portugal and Greece in the last two years.

4) How do we engage with, and involve, communities, industry and businesses? Community expectations are focused on fire agency and government activities. There is scope to shift to a community resilience and co-production model based on agency, industry and community shared responsibility and collaboration. Expectations need to shift to an effort that is collaborative, where responsibility for (good and bad) outcomes is shared. Effort needs to be sustained and past lessons need to be remembered and acted upon.

Response: In Australia the phrase constantly used is “shared responsibility.” This phrase can move beyond a slogan to be implemented, if communities and business understand risks, start owning risks and become a part of decision-making processes around community resilience and landscape, management. The land and fire agencies are engaging with these entities; however, their input is often not considered in any meaningful way when making final decisions what mitigation actions are taken. This will need to change to improve the “social license” for the fire management agencies. Similarly, communities need to have a better understanding on what it means to carry their share of the responsibility. Response: In the United States, states and localities are increasingly bearing the costs associated with wildfire, where historically the federal government had born most costs. In all likelihood, as localities and states bear more of these costs, there will be greater innovation in identifying locally driven solutions to deal with wildfire problems. Local financing mechanisms, like bonding authorities, may pro-vide financial options to fund locally based work with returns paid in local jobs, losses avoided (such as watersheds and homes not damaged), and insurance claims not filed. Response: In Southern Europe there are various paradigms regarding forest fires. Volunteerism for example varies greatly with countries like Portugal and Croatia being very strong on this while Greece and Cyprus lag behind. Further-more, communities mostly expect Governments to come up with funds for fire prevention.

5) How do we tell the success stories when the potential fire intensity is managed by prescribed fire, mechanical fuel treatments, and the “good” wildland fires that support ecological and fuels benefits? (In particular, how might we balance the stories of the economic benefits of fuels management vs. the economic consequences of reactive wildland fire management)? When considering “good” fire, an important story often untold is the use of fire by native and indigenous peoples. How do we incorporate traditional burning into today’s prescribed fire tapestry?

Response: Prescribed burning, its positive outcomes, and the need for increased capacity and capability needs to be framed from an economic and well as a natural resource perspective. Response: The positive outcomes of planned burning into to look a broad impact that considers secondary and tertiary impacts on business and communities e.g, long-term impacts on water yield and quality on communities, agricultural sector or long-term impact on tourism as a result of severely burnt landscapes.

6) Wildland fire should be regarded as a “whole of community” / “whole of landscape” challenge. Fire needs to be recognized in any natural resource management and dis-aster / emergency management strategy. How do we frame wildland fire strategy in discussions about climate change, smoke, watersheds / water catchments, timber harvesting, soil management, biodiversity and single (threatened) species management, tourism and recreation? With a range of other threats and emerging vulnerabilities, how do we work with other disciplines to build a broader community resilience to natural disasters (of which wildland fire resilience is only a part of)? Response: Communities and business understand risks, start owning risks and become a part of decision-making processes.

Response: A very significant investment needs to occur to produce systems and models that will be able to evaluate all values across the landscape and highlight areas where there is a conflict between management objectives and values so they can be negotiated with communities and businesses.

Demands on our Profession

7) There is a continuing need to foster and grow the current and the next generation of fire managers. Will these people come from existing forestry and natural resource management curricula or elsewhere? How do we record, learn from, and act on the varied approaches we’ve brought to our development of fire managers? To what degree can we utilize urban fire staffs and emergency service volunteers? How can we utilize the skills of indigenous people and agricultural traditions in the future?

Response: Fire management needs to be seen as a skillset that draws more broadly than from just the traditional forestry and natural resource management sectors. The management of wildfire requires a range of other complementary skills in community engagement, economics and policy, and infrastructure planning and others. Response: Fatigue, PTSD, depression and mental health issues are increasingly being seen among our wildfire community and first responders. As fires get bigger, severity worse and seasons longer, the challenge and sense of efficacy in the fire community is diminished. Better coping mechanisms and setting expectations more realistically, given how fire is changing could help. We need more holistic treatment of individuals and the community who invest in these careers to ensure their long term well-being.

8) Land and fire managers have multiple accountabilities and responsibilities for the lands they are managing. What are the experiences in your jurisdiction / organization / geographical area?

Response: This leads to internal workload pressures or shifting organizational focus. The issues occur during protracted fire season when resources (both physical and financial) are diverted from land management into fire management, but also during “quiet” years when resource flow in the opposite direction. That flow creates tensions between those parts of organizations.

Response: Fire managers in Australia, the United States and in many fire management jurisdictions their responsibilities are not just land managers.

Increasingly, they have become emergency managers, covering many hazards such as bushfires, structural fires, HAZMAT, Technical rescue and so on. Landscape managers are increasingly involved in prevention and mitigation, and recovery activities as well as response and consequence management. As members of those organizations cover all the above, it means that organizations from a capability point of view have to cover risks associated with all hazards they are responsible for and develop their agency capability so. As financial resources are always limited, this creates continuous shifting of priorities and refocusing for organizations based on organizational priorities, stakeholder views including governments and communities or through reviews and formal inquiries. +

For background and more information

“The Future of Wildland Fire Management. Advance Briefing Report.” For the Quadrennial Fire Review Working Panels. The Brookings Institution January 15, 2008. https://www.nifc.gov/PUBLICATIONS/QFR/QFRResearchAdvanceBriefingReport.pdf

Stein, S.M.; Menakis, J.; Carr, M.A.; Comas, S.J.; Stewart, S.I.; Cleveland, H.; Bramwell, L.; Radeloff, V.C. 2013. ”Wildfire, wildlands, and people: understanding and preparing for wildfire in the wildland-urban interface—a Forests on the Edge report.” Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-299. Fort Collins, CO. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. https://www.fs.fed.us/openspace/fote/reports/GTR-299.pdf.

[An example of strategic planning in process.] “Planning for better bushfire management. Help us shape bushfire management strategies in your area.” Engage Victoria. https://engage.vic.gov.au/bushfire-planning.

Tom Zimmerman. “President’s Desk: Improving Wildland Fire Management Strategies.”Wildfire Magazine. February 2016. https://www.iawfonline.org/article/improving-wildland-fire-management-strategies/.

International Cooperation

This is the fourth in a series of Issue-Discussion Papers offered by the board of the International Association of Wildland Fire with the goal of framing and engaging a dialogue on the key issues our profession faces today and in the future. This dialogue focuses on international cooperation as a mechanism to face our global fire challenges and asks, What can we learn from our existing international fire exchanges and what approaches will future fire challenges require?

This issue-dialogue paper builds on the observations and discussions of the prior papers: Extreme Fires ; Changes in Fire Suppression Tactics and Strategies ; and Competing Priorities and Demands.


The purpose of this paper is to stimulate discussion among IAWF membership and the broader fire community about what it means to be an international organization, and why it is a value worth pursuing. In some cases, we have responses to the questions posed below. In all cases we hope to provoke ideas and insights as part of a broader discussion among the international wildfire community.

Concepts to consider include:

  • International is the first word in our organization’s title.
  • International is implicit in our Diversity and Inclusion Policy.

Becoming a diverse and inclusive organization will enable the International Association of Wildland Fire to learn from others, grow our understanding, and find new ways to address, understand and implement solutions to complex problems.

As a measure of success in diversity and inclusion the IAWF has set itself the following goals in relation to international.

Our Direction – Now and for the Future

Beginning immediately, we will strive to achieve:

  • Geographic diversity within the membership, Board members and all other IAWF activities.
  • Greater inclusion of other underrepresented groups (age, Indigenous, disability, etc.).

We will implement this direction by:


What does it mean to be an “international” association?

  • How do we think bigger, past the immediate problem or crisis?

Why is being international something to pursue?

  • “All fires are local” vs. “What’s happened to you has already happened somewhere else.”

Response: We need to better share knowledge and experience. We need to overcome the idea that we are unique. We need to identify the common concepts across international borders – for example weather dynamics, vegetation types, bird and animal habitats. It is important to identify what is specific to your problem versus what is common about your problem. We can all learn from both aspects. What’s happening to you has probably already happened somewhere else and there lies the potential for cooperation internationally. Climate zones are changing the habitat, species and the fire zones, and in turn changing the populations and landscapes potentially impacted by fire.

What have we learned from international cooperation and exchange?

  • What are the similarities and differences?

Response: We learned that we have very similar needs when it comes to It systems, however we continue to develop those in isolations. Most systems are considered to be “sunk” investment and as such many agencies may be comfortable in sharing those to others free of charge. Response: We have already learned much from each other during exchanges and have brought back new ideas and systems, which have been implemented.

Which countries/regions are most appropriate for global wildfire network?

  • What resources are needed to make this happen?

What are the most appropriate areas for international cooperation and what are the challenges involved?

  • Suppression – dealing with longer seasons, scare resources, compatible skills, rising costs.

Response: There is no jurisdiction in the world that has enough resources – alone — to deal with their wildland fire suppression issues into the future.

Response: Suppression exchanges have been occurring globally for more than two decades. Strong support during fire seasons has also been happening internally in North America and Europe. From the year 2000, suppression support exchanges occurred on a regular basis between Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand. More recently, South Africa provided ground crews to Canada.

A number of questions arise from these exchanges including:

  • Is this enough?
  • What will happen with ever extending lengths of fire seasons, and overlapping fire seasons?
  • Should we have mobile and global suppression resources that can respond based on where the potential risk is and forecasted fire activity?
  • Where globally should suppression support be extended to – what are the other countries in most need?
  • Knowledge/training/research – shared insights, better ways of working, avoiding repeating errors, safe working environments.

Response: There are some examples of sharing materials but overwhelmingly we have differences in a way we train people across the globe. One example of successfully applying the same curriculum and training is a leadership course conducted by a private provider from the US that delivers training courses in the US, Canada and Australia. This allows for faster and better integration when it comes to suppression deployments.

International networks – what are they, what is their value, how to maintain and build?

Response: We have a strong program of regular conferences that enable us to share learnings internationally. These include the Fire Behavior and Fuels conference in three countries in 2019, plus other conferences either managed by the IAWF directly or supported indirectly like Wildfire Brazil 2019. The IAWF has links with other like-minded groups with similar interests but in different parts of the world – these include, but are not limited to, the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, the National Fire Protection Association, California Fire Exchange, Pau Costa, Lessons Learned Center, Association for Fire Ecology (AFE), international aviation, Fire Chiefs, etc.

Many online resources — websites, social media groups, webinars — connect the wildfire community across borders and time zones. These are effective, low cost, high participation platforms that complement the more intensive face to face activities. IAWF’s International Journal of Wildland Fire and Wildfire magazine are well established and respected publications with international content, authors, topics and editorial committees/editors. Both exist to promote wildfire science and knowledge internationally for researchers, operational staff and government organizations.


Steinberg, Michele. 2017. “International Cooperation Produces Valuable Learning Exchange on Wildfire Safety: The 14th International Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Barcelona.” NFPA Xchange (blog). February 2, 2017. https://community.nfpa.org/ community/fire-break/blog/2017/02/01/international-cooperationproduces-valuable-learning-exchange-on-wildfire-safety-the14th-international-wildland-fire-safety-summit-in-barcelona.

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). 2017. “Words into Action Guidelines: National Disaster Risk Assessment Hazard Specific Risk Assessment. Wildfire Hazard and Risk Assessment.” United Nations. https://www.unisdr.org/files/52828_06wildfirehazardandriskassessment.pdf.