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The prevention of forest fires

Preventing the fire from spreading

There are times when it is impossible to prevent a fire. In a particularly dry environment, due to the passage of a heat wave or a change in weather patterns caused by anthropogenic climate change to which the ecosystem has not yet adapted, if lightning strikes it is almost predictable, but inevitable, that a fire breaks out in the area.

the recent fire in the Sierra de la Culebra, the second largest of the 21st century in Spain, with more than 30,000 hectares devastated —the first occurred one month later, in the same area—, was caused by an electrical storm. On June 15, 2022, several lightning strikes generated up to eleven outbreaks, which expanded rapidly due to extreme heat, very low humidity in the environment and on the ground, and gusts of wind of up to 70 kilometers per hour.

When these types of fires happen, prevention gives way to extinction. In the nomenclature of forest fires there are three types according to their extension: near misseswhich extend less than one hectare, the fires strictly speaking, which extend between one and five hundred hectares; and the big fireswhich exceed five hundred hectares.

In fighting forest fires, the idea is that all the foci remain in conatos and that, as far as possible, they do not reach the proportions of large fires, and for this the extinguishing mechanisms are essential. There are certain actions that can facilitate these mechanisms.

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Mechanisms for rapid and effective action

On the one hand, the existence and maintenance of firewalls. It is not about keeping the entire forest clean of bushes —that generates a serious impact on ecosystems, which is not sustainable for flora or fauna—. It is about having corridors, strategically arranged, that delimit patches of natural vegetation. In this way, if one area catches fire, the fire is prevented from spreading to neighboring areas. In addition, these firewalls can be used as access roads for the passage of brigade vehicles.

Fire prevention actions should be in balance or, if possible, in positive synergy with other nature conservation activities, not in competition. In fact, fires produced by natural causes in well-preserved environments, with mature ecosystems, little disturbance and complete food webs, are generally self-limiting.

Dispose of nearby bodies of water —natural or artificial— and keeping them in good condition is also a good prevention tool. The aerial means of extinguishing fires must be supplied with water, if these supply points are close and in an optimal state, the action will be faster and more efficient.

It is evident that for the firefighting brigades and services to function, they must be well maintained and constantly active, to act as soon as possible and with the greatest force. Early detection and immediate action are of vital importance to prevent a fire from becoming large. All this implies a political and economic commitment which, in many Autonomous Communities, does not occur.

Finally, a large part of the causes that favor forest fires are the product of anthropogenic climate change, therefore, any action aimed at mitigating them will be beneficial.

References:

Amacher, GS et al. 2005. Not Getting Burned: The Importance of Fire Prevention in Forest Management. Land Economics, 81(2), 284-302. DOI: 10.3368/le.81.2.284

Baeza, M. et al. 2005. Management of Mediterranean shrublands for forest fire prevention (pp. 37-60).

Lozano, FJ et al. 2008. A multi-scale approach for modeling fire occurrence probability using satellite data and classification trees: A case study in a mountainous Mediterranean region. Remote Sensing of Environment, 112(3), 708-719. DOI: 10.1016/j.rse.2007.06.006

MAP. 2019. Forest fires in Spain: Decade 2006-2015 (NIPO: 003-19-031-5). Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Martell, D.L. 2007. Forest Fire Management. In A. Weintraub et al. (Eds.), Handbook Of Operations Research In Natural Resources (pp. 489-509). SpringerUS. DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-71815-6_26

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