The future of wildfires: the challenge of speaking the same language



Despite the great advances that have been made in recent years by all the actors involved in wildfires, many of the great management techniques fight against the fire used so far is getting obsolete. The Forum wanted to address this improvement by interlacing different knowledge (researchers, territory managers, emergency managers …) to create synergies in order to find a common solution. Bushfires are a problem that concerns us all, from science to society, and it is a challenge that is not reduced locally but is also globally.

The Forum was attended by more than 80 people where they were able to listen to a total of 34 presentations supported by different disciplines and defended by 45 speakers from different parts of the world. The day was structured by thematic sessions, the same ones that occupy the different phases of the emergency cycle; from prevention, preparation, response and finally recovery. The main objective of the Forum On Catalan Wildfire Research was to find out where and why the stagnation that exists within all the gear around the fight against forest fires, which currently prevents control the type of fire that nature is showing us in the last years.

The meeting recalled how the progress of some can become the solution of others and vice versa, and therefore, there is a need among them to know each other. For this reason, the Forum wanted to emphasize the urgency of establishing relationships and that these generate contributions towards a common cause: to avoid as much as possible that fires win the battle and thus avoid valuable natural and human losses.

                                                              8 KEY POINTS OF  THE FORUM 

Point 1: Exchanging knowledge

The efficient exchange of knowledge could help address the uncertainty that is emerging due to climate change, ecosystems and fire behavior. In fact, there are already initiatives that encourage contact between them and provide opportunities for collaboration between actors interested in Wildfires. These are some platforms that encourage the exchange of knowledge:

Point 2: Willingness to work together

The lack of current communication was confirmed, to a greater or lesser extent, among the main actors of the wildfire community and at the same time the clear will to work together was reaffirmed; of researchers with society and media.

In the room, the drafting of a strategic agenda was proposed with the key points on the trans-disciplinary research oriented to the final user from the initial stage; so that they can then effectively use it.

 Point 3: Experience vs. Science

Practitioners do not yet have enough evidence or tools to deal with the current fire behavior take most decisions on the ground based on experience. Therefore, research efforts must be focused on offering effective solutions for the circumstances that are currently taking place and offering the answers currently needed by managers to the current large and the intense wildfire, 5th and 6th generation, which we face.

Practitioners recognized that they prefer to continue using solutions based on experience, until science offers them a more valid solution. However, there is a predisposition to use science as soon as effective solutions are offered.

Point 4: Division of responsibilities

There is an urgency to effectively divide the responsibilities among all the actors involved. Otherwise, uncontrolled fire will make the decisions for us. It is a necessary challenge to motivate all those interested in being part of the solution and thus improve safety and reduce risks in all phases of the disaster management, prevention, preparedness, response and recovery cycle.

Photo 06-11-2018, 09 16 39

Point 5: Towards an improvement of the current legislation

Some of the solutions that are necessary for fire prevention are outside current legislation. Finding a way to create the link between practitioners and researchers, will allow joining forces to pressure the relevant forces to change their management model. With this evidence changes are likely to occur.

Point 6: Contribute to data collection

The proposed solution is for scientists and practitioners to collaborate more with each other at an international level by transferring information that they have been accumulating throughout their career in order to be more efficient and faster. Practitioners should gather information about forest fires where they work to provide data to scientists to validate the results of their investigations.

Having then a common database of international forest fires that provides continuous records over time and space could greatly contribute to the research providing solutions to the current challenges of wildfires.

Point 7: Include end users in research

It must be borne in mind, that often the results of investigations are not yet available for use by end users (for example, emergency managers). That is why the business sector should play a fundamental role in improving collaboration between managers and researchers.

Point 8: Connecting with society

Reaching a more general public is a fact that recognizes that we must abide by both the research and practitioners. Although it is true, communication channels have been greatly improved thanks in part to the latest digital technologies. However, the messages are still not the most appropriate to find the necessary complicity of society.

Therefore, Social Sciences should be part of this gear to create the right message to reach a wider audience, and thus help connect society with wildfires. Society, experts and scientists have responsibilities to decide tomorrow’s future.

In fact, the European Commission already implements it in its RRI research policy, “Research Responsible and Innovation”, which involves the participation of social actors (researchers, citizens, policy makers, companies, third sector organizations, etc.).Thus, they work side by side throughout the entire research process, in order to better align the results with the values, needs and expectations of society.

7th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress

An event at the end of a 2017 that makes us look into the future of wildfires!

Last November 2017 Pau Costa Foundation took part of the 7th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress organised by the Association for Fire Ecology, this edition with the topic of ‘Fire Vision 20/20: A 20-year reflection and look into the future’. The conference was a great opportunity for sharing knowledge on fire ecology and wildfire management with over 500 participants and companies.


The event in Florida was a meeting point for scientists and practitioners mostly from the North America, but also from Europe, South America and Asia. Florida, which is a 170,304 km2 state managing 10% of the lands with prescribed fire, was a great hosting location for such a conference. Fire experts were there to demonstrate the large experience on ecosystem management done by some communities, the scientific advances and the impacts and benefits of prescribed fires.

Several talks and workshops reviewed the intense 2017 wildfire season that strongly affected North America, and also further regions around the world. Overwhelming of firefighting is now a fact, everywhere. Wildfires are getting more complex as they affect wildland and also WUIs, the later often with difficult access and surrounded by wild forests, giving no opportunities for emergency services. With 2017 wildfire alarming season as a precedent, wildfires become social-driven natural disasters. A challenge requiring more communication and social science.

‘Everything Was Incinerated’: Scenes From One Community Wrecked by the Santa Rosa Fire. Source:
‘Everything Was Incinerated’: Scenes From One Community Wrecked by the Santa Rosa Fire. Source:

Resilient landscapes are needed to face the current and future threats of more intense and complex wildfires, worsen by the climate change and the increasing lack of landscape management. Among other management techniques, one way to contribute getting this resilience is through a more extensive use of fire as an ecosystem management tool, which at the same time could benefit biodiversity. Always based on scientific evidence.

The culture of fire has been lost for decades, and now we need to bring it back. There seems to be a consensus between the community of practitioners and scientists on that matter. Yet, more efforts are required to make sure both communities, scientific and practitioner, understand each other and work together on applied science, reach society and influence legislation. These challenges and opportunities are a reality applicable to all of us, regardless of the geographic location.

Marc Castellnou (Chief of the Forest Fire Division of the Catalan Fire and Rescue Service of Catalonia and also President of the Pau Costa Foundation) demonstrated the experience of his team using fire ecology as a tool for fire suppression in Europe and other fires fought elsewhere. Overwhelming of suppression agencies by wildfires requires thinking out of the box. Firefighting agencies need to build more trust and credibility, based on science and experience, to convince the society about the ecological use of fire as an ecosystem management tool that will help avoiding catastrophic situations. Society needs to understand the risk they are exposed to and trust the experts who are facing real wildfire situations. This way, potential loses of assets and structures can be understood (link to video below).





Photos of the event from Joaquin Ramirez, including all posters presented:

The videos of featured presentations are available in the AFE website:

Marc Castellnou presentation on Using Fire Ecology in South American and European Landscapes :


GEO-SAFE Secondment in Australia


The 12nd of September the Pau Costa Foundation started a secondment of the GEO-SAFE H2020 Project in the RMIT-Melbourne (School of Science Cluster, Department of Mathematical Science) for 5 months. The main objective of this stay is to collaborate in the development of models on stochastic cartography to improve end-users response (WP1). PCF will also explore opportunities to network with the Australian partners in different projects.

These are the meeting and the events carried out in the frame of GEO-SAFE project during the secondment:

Fire management analysis and exchange of experiences and lessons learnt

  • Forest Fire Management Group (FFMG), 19th September, Melbourne (link)
  • Meeting with Burnology developers, 28th September, Melbourne
  • Attendance to the Research Advisory Forum 2017 – 25th October, Melbourne (link)
  • Meeting with Jason Sharples and Sébastian Lahaye, 25th October, Melbourne (link)

Awareness communication and education

  • Exchange of knowledge on Community Engagement in Wildfires in Chile, Australia and Europe, 18th September, Geelong (link)
  • Knowledge exchange with Irene Strodthoff, PhD on Emergency Journalism in Chile seconded in RMIT, 2nd October

End-users involvement in research projects

  • Visit to Komorama Park and Marysville with Euan Ferguson (IAWF Board Member and former CFA Chief Officer) to analyse the Black Saturday episode, 30th September

Promotion of exchanges between Australia and Europe

  • Meeting with Euan Ferguson (IAWF Board Member and former CFA Chief Officer), John Handmer (RMIT Melbourne) and John Hearne (link)

Research Exchanges on Fire Modelilng

  • Meeting with John Hearne (RMIT) and Andrea Duane (CTFC)
  • Meeting with Pep Canadell, the Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project and CSIRO Research Scientist, Canberra, 24th October

JC: Fire ecology of Rocallaura Fires (Lleida, Spain), June-July 2016

Versión en castellano

Author: Núria Prat, PhD on Environmental Science at University College Dublin. International Projects Manager at Pau Costa Foundation.

The ‘Rocallaura 1’ wildfire took place on June 23rd close to the Rocallaura village (Spain) propagating through a pine forest (Pinus halepensis). Almost one month later, there was a second wildfire, ‘Rocallaura 2’, on July 19th. This second fire was ignited within the perimeter of the Rocallaura 1 fire. This time the fire spread through the pine forest but also through crop fields, olive plantations and finally getting close to the urban areas of Nalec and Rocafort de Vallbona. A total of 817 ha were consumed by those fires.

Both fires took place in mountain Mediterranean forests, in areas were no forestry-management actions were carried out for decades. From the tree scars we can tell that the area did not have a fire since the Spanish Civil War in the 40s. In the last years, winter and summer droughts have affected the area, and in general all the south-west region of Catalonia. As a consequence, before the fire, the fuels were highly available, enabling the spread of the fire during the events.

Walking on the affected area a month and a half after the second wildfire event, we could observe some short-term effects on the ecosystem. We then decided to write this post to share and discuss these effects with all of you. It is important to highlight that the following lines are only observations, which have not been scientifically tested in the area:

  • The fire spread at a variable intensity, causing a diversity of effects on the ecosystem and creating mosaic. We observed that the changes on the fire intensity are imprinted in the landscape. The diversity of fire intensities created a mosaic of burnt patches within the dense and homogeneous forest mass existing before the fires. The subsequent mosaic combines green, burnt areas and crops. The burnt areas are now new spaces for plants colonising from the contiguous unburnt forest. Overall, causing the regeneration of the forest and enhancing species biodiversity.
  • A few fire-adapted strategies from Pinus halepensis were visible in the areas burnt with high and low severity. The area affected by the leading front of the fire was consumed with the highest intensity. In this area trees were completely burnt leaving behind only dead tree trunks, ashes on the soil and open spaces where sunlight could reach the ground. We also observe that this area is now a “nursery” of pine seeds. During the fire, the cones were heated causing the release and spread of the seeds. Since then, the seeds are on the ground mixed with the soil and ashes and ready to germinate.
Forest area burnt with a high intensity. Photo: PCF
Forest area burnt with a high intensity. Photo: PCF

On the right and left flanks, the fire intensity was low. As a result, only a portion of the trees were burnt. In those areas, the fire propagated mainly consuming the understory vegetation. As a consequence, many tree crowns remained, impeding the penetration of the sunlight to the ground’s surface, which in this case is a mixture of soil, ashes and pine needles.

Forest area burnt with a low intensity. Photos: PCF
Forest area burnt with a low intensity. Photos: PCF
  • A layer of ash and char was accumulated on the top soil and it is now protected from erosion under a layer of pine needles. The ash and char bring minerals and nutrients to the soil fostering the accumulation of organic matter. These conditions are observed mainly under the trees burnt with low severity. The fire consumed most of the understory fuel.
Understory of an area burnt with low intensity. The ground is covered by a layer of pine needles. Photo: PCF
Understory of an area burnt with low intensity. The ground is covered by a layer of pine needles. Photo: PCF

Afterwards, the remaining char and ashes were accumulated on top of the soil providing minerals and nutrients for plants. The pine needles felt on the ground afterwards, protect the soil, char and ash particles from erosion processes. If no post-fire management measures are taken to remove the burnt logs, most of the partially consumed material will degrade forming soil organic matter.

Close-up of the ground a month and a half after the second fire. The ashes and carbon remain underneath the pine needles. Photo: PCF
Close-up of the ground a month and a half after the second fire. The ashes and carbon remain underneath the pine needles. Photo: PCF


  • The post-fire accumulation of carbon on the soil can potentially contribute to mitigate the effects of climate change. During the fuel combustion, part of the carbon is released to the atmosphere as greenhouse gasses, mainly as CO2 and CO. However, another part is transformed to organic and mineral carbon (char and ashes). Both compounds remain in the ecosystem and contribute to the carbon-sink function of the forest. What is more, some recalcitrant carbon compounds are formed during the combustion of wood and are considered very resistant to degradation (e.g. black carbon), that can remain in the system much longer than green vegetation itself.
  • Despite the lack of rain since the fire, some species start sprouting after a few weeks. Species such as holm oak (Quercus ilex) sprout a month and a half after the fire. This example shows the adaptation of Mediterranean species to forest fires. It should then be considered whether reforestation is necessary after a wildfire, as human intervention will potentially have a higher impact than the ecological fire adaptation developed by Mediterranean plants over millennia.
Example of a holm oak naturally sprouting in the area burnt with a high intensity of Rocallaura 1. Photo: PCF
Example of a holm oak naturally sprouting in the area burnt with a high intensity of Rocallaura 1. Photo: PCF
  • Some bird species take advantage of the fire effects on vegetation and landscape caused by the fire. Birds such as the great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) or the great tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) usually remain in the burnt areas if the burnt tree trunks are not removed. Since the presence of fungi and insects is usually higher in dead trees, these are areas of food source for insectivorous birds. We observed trunks without bark indicating bird activity in areas were fire intensity was high.

Birds can take advantage of the new mosaic: they can keep living in the green areas and explore the burnt ones. Consequently, protecting green trees from fungi and insect plagues.

The nests of some singular birds, such as the Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) could had been affected by the fires. Nevertheless, since Northern goshawk hunts in open areas, the fire perturbation could cause an increase of the number of this bird in a mid and long term scale.

The open areas can also restore habitat for species such as the Ortan bunting (Emberiza hortulana), black wheatear (Oenanthe leucura) or the Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata), especially in areas were the dense forest replaced open spaces in the last decades. Finally, it should be mentioned that several studies indicate that the management of the burnt fuel (e.g. removal of dead tree trunks), could have a higher impact to bird populations than the fire perturbation itself.

Pine trees in the area burnt with a high intensity. The bark of some of the trees have been removed by birds looking for food sources. Photo: PCF
Pine trees in the area burnt with a high intensity. The bark of some of the trees have been removed by birds looking for food sources. Photo: PCF

During the next weeks we will publish a second post talking about the Rocallaura fires and the re-ignition of the fire that took place 26 days after the suppression of the first fire. We will discuss what occurred with the smouldering fire during that month.

We would like to thank Francesc Moncasí for his contribution on the section of fire effects on birds!

Art&Fire – Incandescent Memories

Castellano / Català

Homenatge al GRAF anònim (2010) / Josep Serra
Homenatge al GRAF anònim (2010) / Josep Serra

The virtual exhibition INCANDESCENT MEMORIES from the artist Josep Serra i Tarragón (Tarragona, 1970) is inaugurated today. This collection is part of the project ‘Art & Fire’ from the Pau Costa Foundation, a project with the aim to disseminate art on forest fires started four years ago.

The collection is composed by 95 drawings inspired on ‘[…] my first perceptions, my drawings and the Horta de Sant Joan Fire in 2009 […]’ as he mentions in his biography. From today, we will show a drawing of the collection every day through our new media channels on Twitter, and once a week on Facebook. A part of the collection will also be exhibited during the 14th International Wildland Fire Safety Summit and the International Congress on Prescribed Fires taking place between the 31st of January and the 3rd of February of 2017 in Barcelona.

Josep Serra i Tarragón – Tarragona (1970)

I was born 46 years ago in a land where summer fires were perceived as a tragic and intriguing phenomena.

During those years (80-90), my retina was impregnated with yellow-orange, blue lights at dusk, distant spots and convective plumes of smoke filling the skies of the summer time.

Aircrafts loading at the port, the smell of burning wood, acoustic warnings for retardant dropping and men fighting the flames, all those things had an impact to me as a child and teenager.

At that time, I already used drawing as my artistic expression. I saw the world and its morphology in terms of colors, shades, patterns, spectra, perspectives, iterations, etc. rather than a logical and coherent system.

Later, as a doctor from the outside, and artist from the inside, I used mainly charcoal drawing to express my need for communication.

No one could have guessed that the dirt of charcoal in the drawing blocks would end up  connected to the origin: The fire.

It was the documentary «The Great Silence», broadcasted on the Catalan TV in 2015, that  ignited the latent fuel hidden somewhere in my brain. The awe-inspiring stories told by the same firefighters from the Horta de Sant Joan Fire in 2009 that became the starting point of a growing interest on the dynamics of forest fires that I saw summer after summer as a child.

Although I had already drawn on this subject, my fascination on forest fires accelerated exponentially when I met some of the protagonists of the documentary: Marc Castellnou, Oriol Vilalta and Pepe Pallàs.

The number of artistic creations increased when I discovered that Pau Costa Foundation has an Art Fund (Art & Fire Project). At that moment, I had the strange feeling that this project was waiting for me since its inception.

My obsession with the magical and ancestral look of fires at night was evident from the colors used to illustrate fires, but also from the latest illustrations intending to communicate that there is more beyond the sadness of a burned forest. Apart from the formal beauty I perceived, the intention always was, and it remains, to show the vital continuity of our ecosystems naturally disturbed by the fire regimes.

Surely, without this prodigious encounter between my first perceptions, my drawings and the Horta de Sant Joan Fire in 2009, these creative combustion of products would had never emerged.

Cambrils, 6 Octubre 2016

Wildland Fire Safety Award 2015

Marc Castellnou, Chairman of the Board of Pau Costa Foundation and Head of GRAF crews – Bombers Generalitat de Catalunya received the Wildland Fire Safety Award 2015 for the work done in the field of security in forest fires.

The prize, of great international prestige, has been awarded by the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF), under the 13th International Congress on safety management and forest fires in Idaho (USA). The IAWF recognizes the work in the study and analysis of the experiences in the field of forest fires, and especially the ability to draw lessons learned from their experiences.

The award is the testimony of a long fighting fires in Spain, with innumerable personalities who have performed very complex supresions and many professionals who have worked very hard to put fires out for so many years.

To all, and voice of our President, we want you to feel this as your own recognition.

Marc Castellnou, presidente del Patronato de la Pau Costa Foundation y Jefe Área GRAf – Bombers Generalitat de Catalunya ha recibido el premio Wildland Fire Safety Award por la tarea realizada en el ámbito de la seguridad en incendios forestales.

El premio, de un gran prestigio internacional, ha sido otorgado por la International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF), en el marco del 13 Congreso internacional sobre gestión y seguridad en incendios forestales, en Idaho (USA). La IAWF reconoce la tarea en el estudio y análisis de las experiencias vividas en el ámbito de los incendios forestales, y es especialmente en la capacidad de obtener lecciones aprendidas de las experiencias vividas.

El premio es el testimonio de una larga lucha en incendios en España, con inumerables personalidades que han llevado a cabo direcciones de incendios muy complejas y de muchos profesionales que han trabajado muy duro a pie de fuego durante tantos años.

A todos, y por voz de nuestro Presidente, queremos que sientan este reconocimiento cómo propio.

WUI Fires in July 2015

Author: Jordi Vendrell, R&D Department in Pau Costa Foundation.

July has been a month with high activity in WUI Fires in all the Mediterranean Basin, but especially in Iberian Peninsula, Greece and France with some small fires in Italy. Here we’ve done a little report summarizing the activity with the links to photos, videos and news.

In France, fires affected mainly the south of the country from Gironde Department to Bouches-du-Rhône and Var Department, but also in Dijon area. Fire caused around 10.000 evacuations in Var and burned near 500 hectares at 30 km from Bordeaux. Velaux (Bouches-du-Rhône) was also affected with 30 ha burned, and 160 ha were burned in Chênove (near Dijon).

  • Bouches-du-Rhône

  • Côte-d’or

  • Gironde

  • Var

Iberian Peninsula had WUI Fires activity in northeast (Aragón and Catalonia) and south (Extremadura and Andalucía). In the south, fires affected mainly rural interfaces:

  • Lújar (Granada)
  • Plasencia

Plasencia Fire. Source: El Diario

In the north part, fires affected WUI areas in Catalonia, where fires in Girona and in the backyard of Barcelona were the most covered by media. Forest fire in Luna (13000 ha) and Òdena (1200ha) has been the largest fires in this area. Luna fire burned a large forest and agricultural area, affecting rural-urban interface with the evacuation of some small villages. Òdena fire burned also a large forest and agricultural area but with affectation of WUI areas when fire went against to a residential area.

  • Girona

Girona Fire. Sources: @324cat (left), @DiarideGirona (right)
Girona Fire. Sources: @324cat (left), @DiarideGirona (right)
  • Collserola

  • Odena

Odena Fire. Source: Reuters.
Odena Fire. Source: Reuters
  • Luna

Greece was also affected, with fires near Athens.

  • Athens

Athens Fire. Source: Reuters
Athens Fire. Source: Reuters

Italy had a small fire near Rome that caused the block and chaos in Fiumicino Airport

  • Roma