Fighting forest fires 'does not solve problem'

By TPN/Lusa, in News · 12-01-2020 08:00:00 · 0 Comments

Researchers from regions with a Mediterranean climate, including Portugal, concluded that investments made in fighting forest fires "do not solve the problem" and will lead, in the short term, to fires that are "so intense" they are impossible to tackle.

These conclusions are part of an analysis of current fire management policies in regions with a Mediterranean climate made by 22 researchers, four of them Portuguese, led by Francisco Moreira, a researcher from the Lisbon Higher Institute of Agronomy.

In the paper, published in the magazine Environmental Research Letters, the researchers consider that the emphasis given to fighting forest fires in these regions is destined "to fail its objectives" and recommend that investments in human and financial resources be balanced between fighting and prevention.

The researchers argue that fighting "does not solve the problem", since "despite increasing efforts to fight fires, the extent of the area burnt each year still depends largely on weather conditions".

"Due to global warming, as well as changes in the landscape caused by different factors that lead to an increase in the amount of flammable vegetation in these regions, it is expected that fires of great extent and severity will become more common”.

The work also concluded that there is the emergence of "a perverse effect caused by the disproportionately large investment in fire suppression".

Existing policies in Mediterranean regions have led to the so-called "combat trap", which results from investment being very focused on extinguishing fires and neglecting the management of combustible vegetation, "which only postpones the occurrence of large fires".

"With these policies, vegetation builds up on the land and will make fighting ineffective when fires occur on days of great heat, dryness and strong winds".

"The apparent success of the fight in the short term will lead, in the medium term, to fires so intense that they are impossible to fight".

The researchers also consider that the success of a fire policy should not be measured mainly by the extent of the area burned in a fire or year, but rather by the magnitude of the socio-economic impacts caused by the fire.

"Such a paradigm shift does not require a decrease in combat efforts, but places increasing emphasis on vegetation management and population preparation. This will allow the reduction of the combat effort as the land, people and goods become less vulnerable to fire", stresses the analysis.

The study also concludes that "it is essential to resist the political temptation to respond to each new episode of catastrophic fires with increased investment in fighting".


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