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In the next ten points we define the philosophy and the conceptual essence of the Pau Costa Foundation.
Our Mediterranean climate is characterized by the coincidence of the warmest time of the year with the driest time, and the presence of dry storms. Therefore, at least since the Mediterranean climate exists (a few million years ago), there have been, naturally, wildfires. Therefore, many of the Mediterranean plants have acquired a series of adaptive strategies that allow them to persist in recurrent fires. Therefore, fire has been a modeling factor for Mediterranean biodiversity. In addition, many species of flora and fauna depend on the open spaces generated by fires. Without fire, as without summer drought, the biodiversity of our latitudes could not be understood.
However, this does not imply that fires are always beneficial; each species is adapted to a specific fire regime (ecologically sustainable fire regime), that is, to the frequency, intensity and seasonality of fires that has occurred during its evolutionary history; Fire regimes outside the historical range can be detrimental to biodiversity. Therefore, fires in themselves are not harmful to biodiversity, although there may be fire regimes that are. For the conservation of nature it is important to favor ecologically sustainable fire regimes, and avoid ecologically unsustainable ones.
To learn more:
Pauses JG 2012. Forest fires. Cataract-CSIC.
Fire and landscape have many aspects in common. The two have a natural and cultural character, have a spatial dimension that transcends property boundaries and political-administrative boundaries, and they are dynamic realities in permanent transformation. The landscape image is the result of its historical evolution, and the behavior of fire also depends on the record of past episodes and the historical memory of the society with which it lives.
The current landscape is different from the mid-twentieth century. The transformation of territorial structures due to socio-economic dynamics since the 50s, and more recently to global change, has favored increasing fires, faster and more intense and more complex, due to the presence of people and goods that are priority in the protection.
In reality, fire spreads by reading the landscape, and both evolve together. Therefore, effective prevention and protection of property and persons against fire risk must be planned at landscape level, integrating into territorial and urban planning policies and instruments, just as flood risk management is managed.
To learn more:
Montiel, C. (coord.) 2013. Historical presence of fire in the territory. MAAMA, Madrid.
Agricultural, forestry and livestock uses are directly related to the risk of fires as they influence the amount and distribution of vegetation, which acts as fuel for the flames. In recent decades, the intensification of agriculture (loss of mosaic landscape in marginal areas) and livestock (abandonment of pastures) as well as the reduction of forest use (extraction of wood, firewood and grazing of the undergrowth) has favored the expansion of forest fuel and, with it, the emergence of high intensity fires capable of devastating large areas by overcoming the possibilities of the means of extinction.
Therefore, without acting on “fuel loads” at landscape scale, it is difficult to limit the capacity of a territory to “sustain” a large forest fire. Given the limited scope and high cost of preventive treatments, there is a need to integrate agricultural uses or controlled fire (and even the management of natural fires burning at low intensity) to reduce or redistribute the fuel, favoring its extraction or passing from young and dense to mature and spaced woodlands. This is justified even from the cost-efficiency perspective if the costs avoided in prevention, extinction and restoration are taken into account. The option of non-landscape management keeps us in the current panorama of risk of extensive, intense and severe fires, which pose a great threat to people, houses and infrastructure and to the same ecosystem, and which can be aggravated by the change climate.
To learn more:
Plana, E., Font, M., Green, T. (Ed.). 2015. Operational tools and guidelines for improving efficiency in wildfire risk reduction in EU landscapes. FIREfficient Project. CTFC Ed. 83pp.
Plana, E., Barrigón, L. 2007. Manual for the understanding and informative treatment of the phenomenon of forest fires. ESF, Biodiversity Foundation, CTFC. 48pp
Proof of this is that the abandonment in any land of agricultural, livestock, industrial or urban uses means that in a few years it will be invaded by forest vegetation.
So how did our ancestors conquer land in the mountains and keep it for their crops, livestock, urban settlements and industrial development? Well, with the best territory management tool that has ever existed, controlled burning.
Fire is the element that has most contributed to the development of civilization. Indispensable in our way of preparing food, the only source of night lighting that humanity has known for thousands of years, the way to combat the cold in inhospitable places and its ability to transform materials and adapt the landscape to the needs of the population should have transformed it into a universal deity. Paradoxically, many of us grew up with a melodic and well-intentioned institutional slogan, but confused: "All against Fire."
Why do we face fire when they want to raise awareness of forest fires? They did not realize, I suppose, that fire is an ecological factor, the only resource in firefighting when water is no longer useful, and its rigorous professional prescription is the most rational way to compensate for the depopulation of our rural environment to the prevention of the Great Forest Fires that threaten us.
To learn more:
Pauses JG 2012. Forest fires. Cataract-CSIC.
Alejandro García Hdez. The Paradox of Fire.
The main environmental factors that influence the state of the vegetation and therefore the behavior of forest fires (intensity, speed, fire jumps, ...) are precipitation and temperature.
The precipitation has a very clear effect on the development of the plants, and it is not enough to know the amount of precipitation recorded, but to know at what moment of the development of the vegetation has fallen. Thus, for example, a dry spring is a sufficient condition for having large fires in areas subject to this water deficit.
Temperature, due to its influence on relative humidity, is the one that determines to a greater extent the dryness of both living vegetation and dead plant remains, and with this their "availability": predisposition to burn. Heat waves caused by the entry of subtropical Saharan winds are decisive in this variable, and it has been shown that they are becoming more frequent, long and intense, and each year the temperature records of the month of the previous year are broken.
Forest fires, as we have known them (frequency, seasonality, severity, etc.), are undergoing a profound change motivated by the expansion of forest masses and their interaction with the population, but also by the variation of weather conditions that govern them, undeniably affected by the so-called climate change.
And the climate change scenarios augur us a decrease in precipitation in spring and an earlier entry of heat waves, which will contribute to the campaigns of higher fire risk begin earlier in spring, and that environmental conditions imply a behavior of the most virulent and intense fire, greatly limiting the effectiveness of the means of extinction in its control.
There is a general opinion that all fire is bad, the causes of the fires are human and mostly intentional, and that, since these behaviors are educable and punishable, they are therefore avoidable; problem solved. This vision is reinforced by the generally simplistic use made of the magnificent statistics available, which should always be interpreted according to the geographical areas defined by the competent Ministry. Mixing and adding the data of the different realities, generates mathematically correct results, but that do not correspond to any of them.
On the other hand, it is necessary to focus on showing the motivations, which are far from being those that are usually argued, such as "urban interests", "wood market" or similar, authentic "black swans", phenomena of very low incidence but of very high impact, not generalizable at all. Almost 70% of the so-called arson fires come from agricultural burning and the regeneration of pastures. The fact of including this motivation as "intentional" criminalizes and falsifies reality, transferring a vision in which there seem to be many people with an interest and intention to burn the forest. Calling this motivation by its name and managing that reality, arson would remain in percentages close to 20%. Therefore, we have a main problem of the clash between the current generalist prohibition and the use of fire in rural areas, a tool to which we have attributed the undeniable damage of the forest fire, without evidently being the same.
Transferring this is essential so that society, once the real problem is understood, generates effective and realistic fire management policies, to be added to the current prevention and extinction of forest fires. To continue in the simple "fight against the fire" is like wanting to fight the rain for the summer storms; it doesn't seem very smart.
To learn more:
»Forest fires in the education system: 10 fundamental ideas as a necessary conceptual basis.»
Today's society is more urban than it has ever been before. This reality greatly affects the social perception of the forest in general and the management of forest fires in particular. The image is that of a large flame front that devastates everything, not knowing that the impact of each fire on the vegetation, its "severity", is highly variable, affecting grass, shrubland and trees in various ways, according to its "intensity ». This point of view is just as distant with respect to the consequences on the population, the prevention and extinction devices and those who work in them.
Social education is decisive when it comes to making the population understand the messages related to forest fires, but the deficiencies in this necessary contact between citizens and prevention and extinction devices are clear and worrying.
The main information channel of the population is the media, in which the prevailing sensationalism and the seasonality linked to summer are a serious damage. But the main problem in general is of the sector itself, in which the information on the emergency is overprotected from the competent Administrations, with which the circulation is based on untested sources and opinions of citizens outside the devices, reducing the image of professionalism of the operative and generating distrust.
Currently social networks represent an opportunity for the dissemination of the correct messages and as a channel of notices to the population, so the Administrations must develop these communication services, not merely as tools to justify themselves, but as part of a social education of which we all, to a greater or lesser extent, are responsible for.
Public administrations have taken on their own responsibility to fight forest fires and have focused for decades on trying to avoid the generation of negligence or intentionally, fire reports and on seeking the fastest and most forceful intervention to put out those are produced.
Thus, to the successive advertising campaigns of each summer to avoid fires, the reforms of the Penal Code have been added to punish with extreme severity those who cause a fire. And to the increasing endowment of civilian terrestrial and aerial means of extinction, has followed the Military Emergency Unit (EMU) and the application of new technologies for the detection and control of fires.
However, we have to assume a reality, as surprising as it is true; while the resources in extinction were expanding year after year and 80/90% of the fires were extinguished very effectively, the problem instead of diminishing, as implausible as it may seem, has worsened.
The real danger, the Great Forest Fires (GIF), will be generated whenever the extreme environmental conditions that drive them arise (drought, heat, wind, low humidity,…). They are not probable, they are safe, and we have to assume living with them more and more frequently, in more places and for more months. And to live with something that can be disastrous, you have to protect yourself. To prevent is to act.
We must understand that the result is so serious and so dangerous, that what starts it has become almost irrelevant. The eternal mythified intentionality (exculpatory for all of us) or the isolated negligence caused by fires, are inherent in human activity and in any case do not alter the enormous severity of what they subsequently assume, so it is prevention (more resilience) and it is the consequences (more security) that it is time to manage.
If in the medium and long term there is no intervention in preventing each landscape that can burn put us in danger, little will be able to do more planes, more forest brigades, more firefighters, more army. It is necessary to establish territorial policies (active and preventive) committed to controlling the vulnerability of agroforestry spaces and their urban-forest interface environments, in order to break the continuity of the burning lands, reduce the density and structure of plant fuel that burns and puts out of danger the areas of urban forest interface that are in danger.
The essence of fire sensitivity must be changed; The priority is to ask Are you sure? Is your family safe? Is your home, your home, your urbanization, your town safe? And then, what do you do to be safer? What should you do to be safer? To finally actively manage a landscape that burns.
The extinction paradox simply explains the negative effect that occurs when we apply excessive pressure on the extinction to reduce burned surface. The initial success of this policy, which reduces the number of fires, is reversed over time by creating a few larger fires due to the over-accumulation of fuel in the mountains, allowing more intense and faster forest fires than before extinguishing policies. we had.
This paradox is explained with the generations. With the rural abandonment of the 50s, the first major fires appear to have a continuous landscape for the first time in decades. It is the 1st generation of fires that is attacked with the first seals and firewalls. The 2nd generation appears with the unstoppable fuel accumulation process. The fires are already continuous and intense. The professionalization, specialization and diversification of the media is the answer and it is the general situation of the 70s and 80s. But the 90s appear the first large fires with a fire atmosphere, massive secondary foci and extreme speeds of convective fires. It is the 3rd generation of fires. Subsequently the 4th with the appearance of the interface and the 5th with the simultaneity of large fires have completed the series.
This process marks at the same time a reality of different professionalization where each device has adapted in isolation to its generational situation and type fires. It is necessary to adapt the skills and abilities of the training of extinguishing personnel to the needs of the moment of fire (generation) in order to generate an open fire community. Not everyone has the same fires, the same paradox or the same generation. Knowing who is who is the key to cross-cutting and operational professionalization in Spain.
The current system is characterized by presenting a message with a high level of citizen protection (civil protection) against any type of risk. Thus, in a generalized way, the protection that every citizen is guaranteed by right has settled in the global conscience. Under these conditions, a high percentage of citizens in general live under a false sense of absolute and total security in which, in the face of a catastrophe that nobody imagines for himself, "... it cannot happen to me ...", the administrations will go in their defense or even avoid it.
We have already pointed out that today's society lives in urban environments: exactly 80% of the Spanish population. But for a few years now, a significant percentage of urbanites have sought an approach to the rural environment, whether in residences far from the urban environment, in second homes or as a recreational-cultural leisure place. This motivates a high dispersion of settlements and has created structures in the landscape of the urban-forest interface type, generating a new territory of risk. This is more vulnerable, determines the number and type of means necessary, increases the extinction difficulties exponentially and therefore makes the false sense of security more unreal. The inability of the devices to cope with extinction in any situation, even the most extreme ones, or the inability to meet all the simultaneous needs that occur are NOT conceived.
On the contrary, it is understood that these are devices with the capacity and obligation to attend to and solve everything, and this excess of confidence in the system motivates the absence of risk awareness. When reality suddenly shows that this is not the case… “the fire was reaching MY field or MY house and no one was coming to put it out”, the incapacity generated outrage among the population.
Against this, there is nothing to raise awareness about the real risk and the implementation of a culture of self-protection that generates environments prepared to receive the fire, and in cases of simultaneity in the interface, allow to have defensible buildings and valid opportunities to work in the extinction.
The citizen must reflect on their own environment, their assets and their own life, and the administration must train society, especially the little ones, design an appropriate regulatory framework and develop emergency and self-protection plans that help to pre-design the actions .
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