Coping with the aftermath of storm Vaia in North-East Italy

by Silvia Abruscato, Gherardo Chirici, Giorgio Matteucci, and Davide Pettenella

On October 27-30th 2018, the storm Vaia hit North-eastern Italy with peak winds of 200 km/h, which compares to a very strong hurricane, and very relevant rainfall. Vaia has not only been the largest single windstorm event in recorded history causing serious damages to the forests in Italy. The storm was also a singular event that has raised unprecedented public attention because it hit some of the most beautiful and most productive forests in Italy located in the Dolomites Mountains, where several UNESCO world heritage sites full of history, culture, and traditions are located. Finally, Vaia caused enormous economic losses: the spruce and fir dominated mountain forests in the region are stocking twice the average biomass per hectare and their growth rates are also approximately double of the Italian average.

After the first shock and quick response to the damages, it became clear that a “multi-actor collaboration” is needed to develop a strategic approach to deal with the aftermath. Consequently, on February 8th 2019, a national congress was held in the Belluno province in the heart of the damaged area to discuss among the Italian scientific and civil community the impact, management and response perspectives after the Vaia storm. The conference was organized by Università di Padova – Dipartimento TESAF, Fondazione G. Angelini, Comune di Belluno, and SISEF – Società Italiana di Selvicoltura ed Ecologia Forestale. Around 600 participants and a large media visibility demonstrated the exceptionally strong interest in the case. Presentations and video are available here.

Waldbrände in Kalifornien – von Reaktion zur Prävention?

In Kalifornien sind Waldbrände relativ normal und gehören zur natürlichen Kreislauf der Vegetation. Zurzeit nehmen sie aber – selbst für kalifornische Bedingungen und vor allem für die Jahreszeit – extreme Ausmaße an, berichtete heute das WDR-Magazin Quarks in seinem Beitrag Waldbrände in Kalifornien – wie man vorbeugen kann. Gleich mehrere Flächenbrände wüten im Bundesstaat, über 6.700 Hektar Land und fast 7000 Häuser sind bereits abgebrannt. Mit Malibu ist auch ein Prominenten-Viertel von Los Angeles betroffen. Etwa 8.000 Feuerwehrleute sind im Einsatz, und US-Präsident Donald Trump beschuldigt ihn seinen Tweets sowohl die Privatwaldbesitzer als auch den amerikanischen Forest Service, dass dieser Präventionsmaßnahmen unterlassen habe und deswegen eine Mitschuld an den Waldbränden trage.

Die Autorin des Beitrags, Wissenschaftsjournalistin Anne Preger, hat unseren EFI-Waldbrandexperten Alexander Held zu Brandursachen, zur Arbeit des US Forest Service, und zu langfristig nötigen Präventionsmaßnahmen befragt.

Pregers differenzierten, ca. 7-minütigen Beitrag kann man hier hören.

Darüber hinaus wurde Alexander Held auch live per Skype einer Sendung des Online-Journals BILD Aktuell der BILD Zeitung zugeschaltet. Ab ca. Minute 17 ist das Interview mit Held hier zu sehen.

Im Interview mit dem WDR 2 äußert sich Held u.a. zu Risikominimierung, Brennmaterial und den Fehlern, die man bei der Landnutzung in Kalifornien gemacht hat:

Further reading: This is a very interesting, and motivating, blog post from the “Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network”. With some minor adaptions (land use change for instance), this article refers not only to the US but to Europe just as well! Read it!

 

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?

First Aerial Ignited Prescribed Fire in Europe

Note: The articles on this blog make no claim to completeness and do not necessarily represent the opinion of the European Forest Institute.


May 2018

I am happy to share some great news with you.  For the first time in Europe, a prescribed burn was implemented using Aerial Ignition with the Raindance R3 Aerial Incendiary device (Aerial Ignition has been used in Australia since the 70’s, but for Europe this was the first time). We are indeed proud that we played a vital role in facilitating this burn, bringing the right people and the right environment together. A real “research-to-practice” and “collect-connect-exchange” (the motto of the European Forest Risk Facility) for risk reduction and mitigation of the impacts of unwanted fires. I truly hope it is influencing a little bit the fire policy making.

Prescribed Burning is the careful and planned application of mild, low-intensity fire to reduce available fine fuel / fuel loads (i.e. burnable vegetation) in a safe way to reduce the negative impacts of unwanted fires and their severity. Prescribed Fire does not avoid wildfires, but it does make them less intense and safer to control. It helps to avoid disaster fires.

When a fire starts to burn

Rachel MacManus, Head of Content at Green Lady Media, has gathered insightful information in her article The growing problem of wildfires in Britain and what to do if you see one for the latest edition of BBC Countryfile Magazine. It discusses the different causes, consequences and ways to tackle this problem. “Aside from the cost of tackling these blazes, and resources diverted from emergencies like traffic collisions and house fires, the damage to the natural habitat can be catastrophic,” Rachel explains.

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

Cui bono? – Discussing aerial forest firefighting

A rough estimate of (business) interest in aerial firefighting

In general, only 10% of a fire management budget is spent on fuel load management for prevention and 90 % are spent on fire suppression. In these 90% the majority again is dedicated to aerial assets. This article would like to stimulate a reflection on how to create more balance in the use of fire management budget. 

This compilation of thoughts on the monetary benefits of aerial firefighting is not intended to be conclusive, but rather a suggestion –  a suggestion that hopefully provokes further conversation among diverse stakeholders about how the urgently needed balance between fire suppression (response) and land- and forest management (prevention, mitigation, resilience) can be reached.

This short text does clearly not intend to say we do not need aerial firefighting. Of course we need any support that we can get while fighting unwanted fires. The intention however is to motivate equivalent political will and budget for prevention and mitigation, for increasing the resilience of the land and to make firefighting safer and more effective.