Lehren aus den Waldbränden 2018

Der Sommer 2018 war und ist immer noch ein ausgesprochener Feuer-Sommer für unsere Wälder in Deutschland und Zentraleuropa. Eine ungewohnt hohe Zahl von Vegetationsbränden zwingt zur Diskussion der Ursachen einerseits, regt aber auch zum Nachdenken an, was zukünftig getan werden kann und muss.

Erste schnelle Reaktionen befassen sich wie üblich sofort mit der Feuerwehr und der Frage, wie die Einsatzkräfte in Zukunft noch besser und effizienter vorgehen können –  also der reaktive Ansatz und die Bekämpfung des Symptoms, aber nicht der Ursache. Selbstverständlich brauchen wir Feuerwehren, die bestmöglichst ausgebildet und ausgerüstet sind. Der Blick über unsere Ländergrenzen hinweg bietet zahlreiche Möglichkeiten, hier nachzubessern. Die European Forest Risk Facility und das weitere Netzwerk sind seit langem in diesem Bereich des länderübergreifenden “Exchange of Experts” tätig. Allerdings nicht nur auf reaktiver Seite sondern auch und vorallem in den Bereichen Prävention und Erhöhung der Resilienz.

Siberian fire smoke: where does it go?

The European Union’s Observation Programme, Copernicus, and its Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) predicted that in July smoke from fires in the Sakha, far east of Russia, would travel an astonishing 9500 km – across the Arctic Ocean to Alaska, North-West Canada and the west coast of Greenland.

According to a recent press release, “CAMS Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS) estimates that between 2003 and 2017 Russian wildfires emitted on average about five mega tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per day. At the end of June this year, the fires suddenly increased in intensity, upping their carbon dioxide output to approximately 20 mega tonnes per day.” This is not new; Siberian summer season is no stranger to wildfires, but being able to predict the movement of the smoke can help to prevent effects of affected areas.

“Close-to-nature” fire prevention

Targeted or tactical grazing for fire prevention is nothing new, but worthwhile to be highlighted again under the current wildfire situations across Europe.

Personally, I am a believer in large scale prescribed burning as an effective and nature friendly prevention tool. But I have to admit that the idea of producing steaks, chops and sausages through fuel load reduction grazing is also very appealing to me indeed! And it can be applied all year round! And as always, to manage fire we need a toolbox with many different tools! Prescribed burning is one, grazing another. The recent BBC report on “prescribed grazing” says it all.

forest fire in Sweden

“HELP! Our forests are burning!” – “But what kind of help do you need?”

The heatwave across central and northern Europe is preparing the ground for a severe wildfire season. Normally mostly green vegetation is turning into “fuel” in countries normally not affected by serious fire problems. Hereby I am referring to countries not prepared for a wildfire season (compared to the Mediterranean areas, who are dealing with frequent forest fires), despite the climate change scenarios and increasing risks and disturbance predictions.

We have reported here on this blog about the fire situation and early warning systems in the UK, Ireland, and Germany already. Now Scandinavia is receiving a lot of media attention. Sweden for instance is calling for international assistance:

Wildfires rage in Arctic Circle as Sweden calls for help. Sweden worst hit as hot, dry summer sparks unusual number of fires, with at least 11 in the far north” (source: The Guardian) or

“Swedish firefighters were still battling 49 different wildfires across the country on Thursday afternoon, and in some areas residents have been asked to leave for their own safety. Here’s where evacuations take place.” (source: The Local)

As we can see from this and most other media articles, reports focus on the weather, the heat and fires and smoke and on helicopters as well as water-bombing aircraft. And that is what you need in a out-of-control fire situation: Hit the fire fast and hard. And for that you need resources like planes, absolutely. However, what I do miss in most news articles is that the crisis management cycle has more phases than just the response. Is that single-focused reporting maybe a reason for political ignorance of urgent needs for prevention and mitigation?

Fire News from European Media

Here we would like to provide you with recent updates:

Ireland
After responding to 50 wildfires over the past two weeks, Collite urged the public not to engage in “fire tourism” as forest and gorse fires continue to rage across the country amid hot, dry conditions. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/coillte-warns-public-against-fire-tourism-1.3556266

France
The president of a protection association overseeing a natural area near Villers-lès-Nancy lamented the destruction done to birds’ nesting grounds by an 8-hectare wildfire which roared through the area several days ago. https://france3-regions.francetvinfo.fr/grand-est/meurthe-et-moselle/nancy/espace-naturel-sensible-incendie-villers-nancy-1507109.html

How to implement risk management in future forestry? A conference trip to Solsona, Spain

On 6th of June 2018, EFI Bonn’s principal scientist Marcus Lindner and I, Junior researcher Laura Nikinmaa escaped tropical Germany to cool down in the Mediterranean Solsona, Spain, and to participate in the conference “COMMUNICATING RISKS IN Decision Support Systems: from basic research to advanced decision support tools” with 30 other researchers. Hosted by the Forest Science Centre of Catalonia (CTFC), the conference was organized by the SuFoRun project and IUFRO’s Risk Analysis working group 4.04.07. The program provided plenty diverse presentations ranging from using real option analysis to deal with uncertainties to effects of bark stripping on wind resistance of Norway spruce.

Unusual Record: UK burnt area largest in Europe – so far

Thanks to the careful observation of colleagues at Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) we are able to report an unusual “record”: As of 11 June 2018, the largest burnt forest area in this year so far in Europe can be found in the United Kingdom. We are looking at 8049 ha of burnt area  that is more than the combined burnt area of Spain, Portugal, France and Italy together.

European forests at risk: new challenges and possible solutions

by Johanna Strieck & Laura Nikinmaa

The cold Czech winter offered a warm welcome when the participants of the kick-off event of the project “Sustaining and Enhancing the REsilience of European Forest” (SURE) started in Písek, Czech Republic, on 18th of February. More than 50 scientists, practitioners and policy makers from 19 different European countries gathered to exchange experiences with forests risks and related disturbances. Hosted by Pro Silva Bohemica and European Forest Institute, the event was the kick-off for the collaboration towards a European Forest Risk Facility.

Paradox: cold weather phenomenon – high fire danger index

IMG_0315
Prescribed Fire in NW Germany, 23 Feb 2018

Central Europe is experiencing a rare weather phenomenon:

A polar vortex has caused Arctic air to suddenly warm up and send freezing cold south towards Central Europe, which has already suffered days of frigid weather. The event, known as a Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW), usually chills for two weeks or longer and brings widespread snow. It has not occurred for four years, official government (UK) records show, and last time brought the coldest March for 51 years to Scotland for instance.

However, while Europe is preparing for cold, snow and ice, we can observe a paradox phenomenon: Before the expected snow and ice is arriving, the current weather conditions do indeed increase fire danger. Dry air with RH (relative humidity) dropping as low as 30% and winds gusting up to 60 km/h make ideal conditions to burn winter-dry fuels.

Traditional prescribed burning at this time of the year should be carried out only with wind under 30 km/h and with utmost care.

The Forest Service of Ireland for instance has issued a RED Fire Danger Index for the coming days: FIRE_DANGER_NOTICE_DAFM_ 27_February

irish_fires_27_feb_2018
Actives fires in western Ireland detected with AFIS Advanced Fire Information System mobile app. 27 Feb 2018…..following the risk analysis and red FDI Warning the day before. Source: C. Nugent

Urban forestry in Beijing China – report and recommendations

End of January, I (the urban forestry consultant at EFI’s Resilience Programme) was invited by the Beijing Forestry and Parks Department of International Cooperation for a study visit and a training on urban forestry.  China is one of the leading countries when it comes to afforestation: in 2018 alone, about 6.6 million hectare new forests (or the size or Ireland) will be planted. The new forests are not only situated in the rural areas, but also in and near urban agglomerations. In the last Beijing province (area: 16.000 km², inhabitants: 22 million) for example, about 67.000 ha additional forest has been planted over five years, mainly for landscape and aesthetical reasons, but also for recreation purposes. In the next five years, they are aiming for an additional similar area.

Site visits

The study tour started in one of the mayor urban redevelopment projects that Beijing has seen: the 2008 Olympic Quarter. The Olympic Park (680 ha) has been built on former built-up area and farmland, and is situated at the central North-South axis through Beijing which connects the Olympic Park with the central Tiananmen Square. The park includes an artificial lake where soil was reused for building an artificial hill. The composition of the park follows the traditional Chinese design of building with the back to the hills and the front to the water.