Extreme wildfire events: Addressing challenges across Europe

A newly issued session brief provides insights into the major challenges and opportunities to implement integrated fire management from the 4th European Climate Change Adaptation Conference

Source: ECCA 2019 - Nuno Augusto

As the global threat of extreme fire events intensifies in the face of climate change, scientists and practitioners across Europe are calling for holistic landscape management that integrates fire prevention and emergency response processes. At the 4th European Climate Change Adaptation Conference (ECCA) in Lisbon, Portugal, leading experts in integrated fire management came together for the session “Extreme Wildfire Events: Addressing the Challenges Faced by National Governance and Management Systems across Europe.” ECCA recently issued a Session Brief on the May 2019 event, which provides insights into the major challenges and opportunities to implement integrated fire management in Europe.

The brief details the presentations of speakers from a range of disciplines within the fire research field who spoke to a vision of integrated fire, forest and landscape management. An integrated approach is one that considers interaction among all phases of the wildfire management process, from fire prevention and preparedness, to fire detection and response, to post-fire restoration and adaptation. Achieving an integrated fire management strategy requires approaches and policies that engage local people in all stages of the process, promoting their ownership of fire solutions and finding ways to connect people with, and educate them about, the landscape.

However, such a vision must be economically and socially viable, and must consider the multifunctionality of forest ecosystems. The event convened speakers across scales, addressing how integrated fire management is relevant on international and local levels, and how fire resilience policies can impact and support practitioners.

Attendees at the opening session of the 4th European Climate Change Adaptation Conference. Source: ECCA 2019 – Nuno Augusto.

Speakers from international organisations, including Inazio Martinez de Arano, Head of the European Forest Institute Mediterranean Facility, and Peter Moore, from the FAO Forestry Department, emphasised the importance of a systematic territorial approach to fire risk reduction. Current approaches to fire suppression are insufficient in the face of increasing megafires, and firefighting costs often deplete budgets that would be used for prevention or restoration. Instead of zeroing in on end-of-the-line solutions, Peter Moore suggested, “priorities should shift from investing time and resources in response, to review, analysis and risk reduction.” These actions, according to Inazio Martinez de Arano, could lead to well-managed, resilient landscapes in which fires are easily suppressed.

To ground these ideas in a local context, Marc Castellnou, the Strategic Fire Analyst of the Fire Service of Catalonia, Spain, and Athanasios Sfetsos from Demokritos, the National Centre for Scientific Research in Greece, discussed the challenges and opportunities of fire suppression and prevention in Europe, pointing to the need to create “a landscape of tomorrow” based on scientific research and practical experiences. This point was echoed in a review of 20 years of research on forest fire management and through an open roundtable discussion, which covered the Portuguese perspective on integrated fire landscapes.

Overwhelmingly, this session demonstrated the need to include the social dimension of fire in land management approaches by focusing on fire as not just an ecological problem, but an economic and social one. The speakers suggested that through addressing spatial planning policies, fragmentation of land ownership, and the poor profitability of land, landscapes can be made more resilient to fire in a way that is also socially and economically sustainable.

While the vibrant discussion and debate chronicled in the brief of this session proposes many solutions to promote integrated fire management, it also raises several questions about the evolving nature of fire risk in Europe and how to incentivise people to return to the countryside, while also ensuring joint fire management from prevention to restoration. As these experts and many others across Europe continue to work toward defining answers to these questions through research and on-the-ground action, this session provides strong evidence of the need for long-term strategies for fire prevention, and for helping forests to be resilient in the face of climate change.

Read the full Session Brief

The discussion continues at the Resilient landscapes to face catastrophic forest fires international event in Madrid, Spain!

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EFIMED is the Mediterranean Facility of the European Forest Institute. Based in Barcelona, Spain, it was launched in 2007.