Wildfire risk management strategies are currently experiencing significant improvement in efficiency and operational impact, primarily due to the targeted transfer of knowledge based on actual experience in various fields of fire fighting that are being shared between actors.
Under future climate change scenarios, all EU countries may undergo increased risk situations associated with fire, and civil protection and global emergency management will therefore become increasingly important. The footprint of wild and forest fires is likely to increase, causing major socio-economic impacts. A large proportion of the damage is likely to be related to high-impact large fires, or to the consequences simultaneous ignitions. These events can be unprecedented with regard to their suppression costs, property losses, natural resource damage, and loss of life. They are also a global phenomenon, tied to internationally major political issues including public safety, deforestation, forest degradation, black carbon emissions, and carbon sequestration.
Arguably, this may represent one of the most pressing challenges in both public safety and forest management today in many European regions. Characteristically, these large and/or widespread fires show very characteristic behaviours, very different from small and medium sized fires, and they do not present a fire line attackable from a point with available fire fighting resources. These fires are also characterised by simultaneity of ignitions and an associatedcrown fires, and show extremely singular patterns of spread. The need for defence and protection with regard to these fires grows constantly, easily overwhelming the resources and decision making channels available during suppression. The need for adapting current planning procedures and practices to these types of fires is obvious, but their current local frequency is low in any particular region, and every planning developer has difficulties to implement cost-efficient measures.
The demands imposed by the current situation exceed the capacity of the legislative and operational systems to provide adequate solutions. Therefore, a cross-sectoral, transnational view is required to manage and make the best possible use of the available knowledge from the operational, scientific and technological sectors .This should facilitate the transfer of key knowledge, best practices and “lessons-learned” to build the capacity of planning developers to adapt to this increasingly threatening situation.
Fire is affecting new areas that historically had not experienced significant impact from wildfire events. This is an emerging and novel situation in many regions (e.g. the UK in 2011, Sweden in 2008). Current fires are not a forest risk but a global emergency involving forest values and civil protection. The duality between fires in Mediterranean Europe and central-northern Europe offers different fire typologies, but with common solutions that may be applicable.
Anticipatory fire fighting and preventative strategies based on detailed knowledge of fire behaviour patterns offer a powerful tool for improving wildfire risk mitigation strategies from a cost-effective approach. These strategies are based on the prediction of risk at different spatial and temporal scales. These allow an effective use of available resources to cover locations in time and space offering more cost-effective potential for success (i.e. higher risk- higher potential for effective fire suppression). Prior knowledge of potential future fire events in a territory allows the rational participation of the actors responsible for landscape management (e.g. forestry and land planning administrations) in reducing fire risk and hazards.
The success, in some regions, of new approaches integrating anticipatory fire fighting strategies into fire fighting plans and landscape management actions offers new possibilities in the applications of such approaches elsewhere in Europe. It is therefore important to mobilize available knowledge, provide new tools, and exchange experiences and the best technical innovations in fire risk management to save time in the learning process and to promote the participation of the actors involved in landscape management.
In this sense, we need preventative strategies and tools based on detailed knowledge of fire behaviour patterns to improve efficiency in wildfire risk reduction. From the principal factors which influence forest fire behaviour and propagation (topography, climatology and fuels), it is important to pay special attention to those we can modify through forest management, as is the case of forest structure. For this reason, it is of major importance to integrate wildfire risk reduction in forest management and planning and to make use of decision tools to identify the vulnerability of forest stands to wildfires and to orientate forest management towards an objective that creates forests that are more resilient and resistant to large forest fires.