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 objetive of this stay is to collaborate in the development of models on stochastic cartography to improve end-users response (WP1).
PCF will explore opportunities to network with the Australian partners in different projects:
Fire management analysis and exchange of experiences and lessons learnt
Forest Fire Management Group (FFMG), 19th September, Melbourne (link)
Awareness communication and education
Exchange of knowledge on Community Engagement in Wildfires in Chile, Australia and Europe, 18th September, Geelong (link)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.