10 articles to deepen your knowledge on the social and economic dimensions of wildfires – part II

EFIMED Junior Researcher Sarah Feder concludes the list of 10 academic papers written by our speakers at the international event #FacingForestFires in Madrid next week, whose research will spark interesting debate sessions.

Photo: Pixabay

In preparation for our upcoming conference, “Resilient landscapes to face catastrophic forest fires: global insights towards a new paradigm”, we have selected ten pieces of academic literature to highlight in a series of two articles. You can read the first article in the series here.

Our curated list, which features research from many of the featured speakers who will participate in our conference in Madrid, focuses on the social and economic components of fire risk and prevention, pairing pieces from different disciplines and research styles that together paint a picture of how the convergence of science, policy, and action can construct fire-resilient landscapes in the context of climate change.

6. Challenges for megafire management

Thompson, Matthew P.; Rodríguez y Silva, Francisco; Calkin, David E.; Hand, Michael S. 2016. A review of challenges to determining and demonstrating efficiency of large fire management. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 26(7): 562-573

Characterising the impacts of wildland fire and fire suppression is critical information for fire management decision-making. This paper focusses on decisions related to the rare larger and longer-duration fire events, where the scope and scale of decision-making can be far broader than initial response efforts, and where determining and demonstrating efficiency of strategies and actions can be particularly troublesome.

The review is organised around key decision factors such as context, complexity, alternatives, consequences and uncertainty, and for illustration, compares fire management in Andalusia, Spain, and Montana, USA. Two of the largest knowledge gaps relate to quantifying fire impacts to ecosystem services, and modelling relationships between fire management activities and the damage they manage to avoid.

The relative magnitude of these and other concerns varies with the complexity of the socioecological context in which fire management decisions are made. To conclude their review, the authors examine topics for future research, including expanded use of the economics toolkit to better characterise the productivity and effectiveness of suppression actions, integration of ecosystem modelling with economic principles, and stronger adoption of risk and decision analysis within fire management decision-making.

7. Extreme fire events in the European Mediterranean

San-Miguel-Ayanz, Jesús; Moreno Jose, Manuel; Camia, Andrea. 2013. Analysis of large fires in European Mediterranean landscapes: Lessons learned and perspectives. Forest Ecology and Management. 294: 11-22.

Even if there is not complete agreement on the term, megafires often refers to those fire events that cause catastrophic damages in terms of human casualties, economic losses, or both. In this article, the authors analyse some of the most damaging fire episodes in Europe in the last decades. Their analysis relates the events to existing conditions in terms of number of fires and burnt areas in the countries and regions where they occurred, showing that these large fire episodes do not follow the general trend of those variables and constitute outstanding critical events. Megafires are characterised on the basis of the meteorological and fire danger conditions prior to the event and those under which they develop. Impact is assessed in terms of total burnt area, estimates of economic losses, if available, and number of human casualties caused by the megafire event.

The results determine that megafires were driven by critical weather conditions that lead to a concentration of numerous large fires in time and space (fire clusters). These megafire events occurred independently of the large expenditures in forest fire fighting means and increased preparedness in the countries where they took place. This analysis supports a series of recommendations, and the authors conclude that resilient societies and landscapes may be achieved by promoting fire-prevention oriented forest management and increasing awareness on potential extreme fire events to prevent the occurrence of megafires in Mediterranean regions.

Forest fire in Bayona, Galicia, Spain in 2016. Photo: Flickr – Contando Estrellas (CreativeCommons)

8. Strategic decision-making for wildfire management

Castellnou, Marc; Prat-Guitart, Núria; Arilla, Etel; Larrañaga, Asier; Nebot, Edgar; Castellarnau, Xavier; Vendrell, Jordi; Pallàs, Josep; Herrera, Joan; Monturiol, Marc; Cespedes, José; Pagès, Jordi; Gallardo, Claudi; Miralles, Marta. Empowering strategic decision-making for wildfire management: avoiding the fear trap and creating a resilient landscape. Fire Ecology, 15(1), 31.

In recent years, fire services in Mediterranean Europe have been overwhelmed by extreme wildfire behavior. As a consequence, fire management has moved to defensive strategies with a focus only on the known risks (the fear trap). In this region, wildfires can change rapidly, increasing the uncertainty and causing complex operational scenarios that impact society right from the initial hours. To address this challenge, proactive approaches are an alternative to defensive and reactive strategies.

This paper proposes a methodology that integrates the uncertainty of decisions and the cost of each opportunity into the strategic decision-making process. The methodology takes into account values such as fire-fighting safety, organizational resilience, landscape resilience, and social values. The methods detailed in this paper facilitate the analysis of possible scenarios of resolution and the costs of the opportunities that help build resilient emergency response systems and prevent their collapse. Moreover, they help explain the risk to society and involve citizens in the decision-making process. These methods are based on the experience and lessons learned by European incident commanders, managers, and researchers collected during the last decade.

9. Driving factors of forest fire ignition in Europe

Ganteaume, Anne; Camia, Andrea; Jappiot, Marielle; San-Miguel-Ayanz, Jesus; Long-Fournel, Marlène; Lampin, Corinne. 2013. A Review of the Main Driving Factors of Forest Fire Ignition Over Europe. Environmental Management. 51: 651–662

Knowledge of the causes of forest fires, and of the main driving factors of ignition, is an indispensable step towards effective fire prevention policies. This study analyses the factors driving forest fire ignition in the Mediterranean region, including the most common human and environmental factors used for modelling in the European context. The causes of forest fires are varied and their distribution differs among countries, but may also differ spatially and temporally within the same country. In Europe, and especially in the Mediterranean basin, fires are mostly human-caused. Depending on the socio-economic context of the region concerned, factors such as the unemployment rate or variables linked to agricultural activity can explain the ignition of intentional and unintentional fires.

Regarding environmental factors, those related to weather, fuel and topography are the most significant drivers of ignition of forest fires, especially in Mediterranean-type regions. In addition to demonstrating that human intervention, mostly through agricultural activity and recreation, is the main source of fire ignition. This provides policymakers and scientists carrying out future research to consider development at the wildland-urban interface as a key factor – and key opportunity for prevention work – in fire risk and resilience.

10. Learning to coexist with wildfire

Moritz, Max A.; Batllori, Enric; Bradstock, Ross A.; Gill, A. Malcolm; Handmer, John; Hessburg, Paul F.; Leonard, Justin; McCaffrey, Sarah; Odion, Dennis C.; Schoennagel, Tania; Syphard, Alexandra D. 2014. Learning to coexist with wildfire. Nature. 515: 58-66.

The impacts of escalating wildfire in many regions — the lives and homes lost, the expense of suppression and the damage to ecosystem services — necessitate a more sustainable coexistence with wildfire. Climate change and continued development on fire-prone landscapes will only compound current problems. Emerging strategies for managing ecosystems and mitigating risks to human communities provide some hope, although greater recognition of their inherent variation and links is crucial.

Without a more integrated framework, fire will never operate as a natural ecosystem process, and the impact on society will continue to grow. The authors of this paper argue that a more coordinated approach to risk management and land-use planning in these coupled systems is needed, and put forth a framework to move toward more fire resilient landscape management.

Missed the first five articles? Catch up here!

Learn more by exploring the wildfires tag on MedForest, or prepare for our upcoming #FacingForestFires event by reading the biographies of these speakers and more on the EFI website. Follow along as the leading experts on the socioeconomic dimensions of forest fires discuss how we can move toward fire resilient landscapes around the world by watching the #FacingForestFires livestream.

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Sarah Feder
Sarah Feder, based at EFI's Mediterranean Facility, has a particular focus on the socioeconomic dimensions of wildfires in Mediterranean forests. Sarah is also a member of the EFIMED Communications team, contributing articles to this platform and the EFI website. She has a Master of Science in Human Geography from Lund University in Sweden.