Towards a long-term solution to coexist with fire in Mediterranean areas

The summer’s catastrophic events in Portugal and Greece is strong evidence that current policy is failing to protect humans, property and natural values from wildfires. Fire-prone areas in the Mediterranean areas need a radical new strategy to manage wildfire risk

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Photo: University of Lleida

In southern European areas, fire-regimes are not fuel-limited since the fragmented cultural landscape is rapidly evolving to dense regenerating forests where managed agricultural lands reduce to valley bottoms. As a result, extreme events spreading over this hazardous fuel continuum resist suppression efforts and burn large areas. At the same time, the suburban sprawl that first developed on periurban open plains is now creating highly exposed human communities while expanding on the wildland-urban interface. To cope with this evolving scenario, we require a new approach beyond the full suppression and ignition prevention policy. A collaboration of researchers from the Mediterranean and USA purpose a new wildland fire management strategy aimed at creating fire resilient landscapes, restoring cultural fire regimes, facilitating safe efficient fire response, and creating fire-adapted communities.

The researchers developed several studies within a collaboration framework between various researchers from the Landscape and Forest Management Laboratory at the University of Lleida (Spain), the Wildland Fire and Silviculture Laboratory at Oregon State University (USA), the Institute of Biometeorology at the National Research Council (Italy), and the Fire Sciences Laboratory at the USDA Forest Service (USA) among others.

First, fire simulation modeling assessed wildfire exposure to valued assets and allowed exploration of fire exchange among the different administrative units or planning areas (i.e., municipalities) on vast landscapes. The modeling results were then combined with historical fire occurrence data to prescribe the most suitable management options at the municipality level. On the one hand, they identified the fire-prone blocks where fuel treatments (e.g., thinning, prescribed fires and mastication) can concentrate at effective intensities to restrict the likely occurring large fires. On these high-priority areas, they also implemented a downscaling treatment optimization model to design the fuel treatment mosaics as required by wildfire managers, while exploring the co-location opportunities with other forest management or habitat restoration works. On the other hand, they analysed the anthropic ignition prevention priorities and lightning re-introduction possibilities considering the potential impacts on neighbouring human communities from escaped fires. In parallel to this, they used wildfire hazard and fire transmission to communities as a proxy to better understand the current possibilities for aggressive wildfire response. Lastly, they generated the wildland-urban interface (WUI) maps that coupled with exposure profiles might help inform community protection plan implementation.

Continuing with a total suppression policy will only enhance mega fire escalation in Mediterranean areas. We need to understand the triggering factors behind massive fire episodes to develop a science-based, comprehensive and proactive wildfire management strategy. Accordingly, there is a clear need to integrate the essential risk causative factors (fire occurrence, large fire spread and potential effects, both negative and positive) into a framework capable of prioritising the most suitable management options locally. The implementation of management prescriptions would ultimately require a cross-scale collaborative solution where different socioeconomic agents including citizens, homeowners, human communities, forest landowners, public forest managers, and firefighting institutions assume their involvement in mitigating risk.

REFERENCES

• Alcasena, F.J., Ager, A.A., Bailey, J.D., Pineda, N., Vega-Garcia, C., 2019. Towards a comprehensive wildfire management strategy for Mediterranean areas: Framework development and implementation in Catalonia, Spain. J. Environ. Manage. 231, 303-320. Doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2018.10.027

• Alcasena, F.J., Ager, A.A., Salis, M., Day, M.A., Vega-Garcia, C., 2018. Optimizing prescribed fire allocation for managing fire risk in central Catalonia. Sci. Total Environ. 4, 872-885. Doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.297

• Alcasena, F., Evers, C., Vega-Garcia, C., 2018. The Wildland-Urban Interface raster dataset of Catalonia. Data in Brief 17, 124-128. Doi: 10.1016/j.dib.2017.12.066i