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

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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.

“We need wildfire prevention rather than fire suppression” – EFI-expert responds to EU’s new rescEU plan

The European summer of 2017 had unprecedented amounts of natural disasters happening simultaneously, such as devastating forest fires in Portugal, immense storms in Germany and Greece an the UK, often followed by severe floods. It is estimated that natural disasters cost EU member states about 360 Billion Euro over the past 40 years, while over 200 people lost their lives in fires, storms and floods in 2017 alone.

Threatened by increasing magnitudes of climate change and destabilized by a lack of resources and cross border coordination, the EU faced the fact that something has to change. To boost Europe’s ability to better deal with natural disasters, the European Commission yesterday launched rescEU, an initiative to improve the European system to tackle natural disasters. The intention is to strengthen European response capacities on the one hand, and (maybe) more importantly to improve cooperation and coherence of disaster prevention and preparedness among European countries on the other hand.

“From the perspective of the European Forest Risk Facility hosted by European Forest Institute we welcome the statement of the commissioner, indeed we support his statement for more cooperation and prevention, hand in hand with adequate response to disasters”, says European Forest Institute’s (EFI) own senior expert on Forest-, Fire-, and Wildlife management Alexander Held.  However, we might have the wrong focus, also reflected in media coverage (like the German ZEIT), which so far focuses on the first aspect: suppression and fire control. A misallocation of money and resources, arisen due to misinformed people with a wish for a political spectacle, according to Held. “Large wildfires only occur through a combination of three things: an ignition, severe fire weather and a large contiguous accumulation of fuel. Take away the factors mankind cannot control, and you are left dealing with the accumulation of fuel – thus preemptive fire management. Broad scale fuel reduction burning (or grazing, mulching, mowing, converting to productive, valuable forest) is the only defense we have against large wildfires”, so Held. “Fire control through water bombers has its place, but is – just like any other case of symptom combating –  ineffective when dealing with large wildfires.”

Make sure you do not miss out on Alexander Held’s full statement on rescEU, as he makes a comprehensive case for allocating resources towards wildfire prevention rather than fire suppression. The statement is based on the expertise of the forest fire manager Held and does not necessarily reflect EFI’s viewpoint as an organization.

 

Tackling wildfires in Mediterranean forests

Catastrophic forest fires claimed lives this summer across the world, from California to Portugal and Spain. The Mediterranean basin is a global wildfire hotspot and the threat of wildfires to forests and society is expected to increase with climate change.

Scientists from the European Forest Institute (EFI) urge a shift in focus on how we tackle this problem, moving beyond the current emphasis on fire suppression. They argue that the bio-economy offers means to activate management and to demonstrate that forests are a valuable resource, as a smart and sustainable strategy to address the problem of wildfires.

In a new paper published in Forest Policy and Economics, the researchers consider the opportunities offered by a forest-based bio-economy alongside an improved recognition of the value of forests. They suggest a strategic policy shift in favour of fire prevention as part of an integrated forest management strategy, while calling for a shift in mind-set for society to recognise the various ways in which forests provide value.