Women of fire: first European «Women’s Traditional Fire Training Exchange» held in Portugal

Women fire professionals from 21 countries gathered in Portugal for the first European WTREX. This unique training exchanged traditional fire management techniques, fostering gender equality and a global network for "good fire" use.

Photo: João Marnoto

The first European Women’s Traditional Fire Training Exchange (WTREx) was held in the Alto Minho region, Portugal, to highlight the importance and growing role of women in rural fire management. The training, which took place on 1 – 10 February 2024, brought together more than 45 professionals from 21 countries around the world to promote gender equality and provide a practical training experience on fire as a natural process in ecosystems, framed within the Incident Command System (ICS) structure.

Photo: João Marnoto

WTREx is dedicated to evolving the organizational culture of fire through the empowerment of women and minority groups and awareness of the importance of diversity. With an inclusive approach that embraces fire professionals of all genders, origins and nationalities, it provides a rare opportunity for training, mentoring and social connections, in a safe environment.

Unlike other training exchanges, which generally have a more institutional outlook on fire use, WTREx aimed solely at the use of traditional fire: managing the landscape in northwest Portugal according to cultural practices and uses, working in partnership with the communities and their goals, learning different techniques and patterns depending on the final objective of the burn, such as hunting, grazing/herding, or increasing stand production.

Photo: João Marnoto

Over these 10 days, various initiatives were conducted, including observations on fire behaviour and weather condition, monitoring of fire effects, learning about ignition techniques, driving patterns, and prescription of traditional fire, as well as training opportunities on personal development in leadership, bias and empowerment. The final goal was to give a complete toolbox for participants to bring back to their home countries, from all the skills needed to work in diverse teams using fire.

The event aimed to enhance the knowledge of professionals in using fire as landscape management tool, promoting biodiversity, nature conservation and rural fire prevention. Another goal was to increase the diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and talents to create solutions for complex current fire-related problems, expanding knowledge and experience in the use of “good fire” and its positive impact on ecosystems.

Photo: João Marnoto

After a first day dedicated to introductions and field preparation, featuring comprehensive training sessions and communal meals, the group was officially primed. Fortunately, weather conditions proved optimal, with rain only making its appearance towards the end of the week. Donned in specialized protective attire and equipped with the necessary tools, they collaborated in teams, rotating through various positions and responsibilities. These included igniting fires using drip torches, ensuring safety protocols during operations, and monitoring weather patterns and fire behaviour closely – always in accord to the local uses and practices. Participants also had very unique opportunities of community bonding: native cow species grazing and overlooking the pasture renewal burns and working with animal traction for removing forest debris in communal lands.

Photo: João Marnoto

These intense days turned out to be completely life changing for all the participants, bringing their contrasting life experiences to a common goal. The event promoted a “family” for life, creating a support network for female fire professionals in integrated fire management. For the first time, many of these women felt “seen”, and there were very special moments of sharing, emotional connection, and empathy, like a catharsis driven by fire.

From the 130 Fire Training Exchanges organised since the inception of the program in 2008, WTREx Portugal was the most diverse of all, which undoubtedly contributed to richness and depthness of the experience for all.

Photo: João Marnoto

WTREX was organized by the Agency for Integrated Rural Fire Management, IP (AGIF), supported by the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality (CIG), in collaboration with the Alto Minho Intermunicipal Community, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and its program the Fire Learning Network (FLN), with the Municipality of Paredes de Coura and Rural Laboratory. This public initiative, supported by local and international partners, is part of the National Action Plan of Integrated Management of Rural Fires – thus contributing to Gender Equality, training/qualification, and International Exchanges goals.

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