Current approach to wildfires risks lives and wastes money

Published on : Monday, October 25, 2021


A new approach is urgently needed to tackle global wildfires as current methods are no longer working, draining the public purse and placing lives at risk, according to experts.

This summer saw some of the worst wildfires in history and underscored the destructive impacts of global heating.

Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire adviser at the University of California, said that they are seeing a historical approach to fighting fires is no longer working.

In July 2020, the Dixie fire in California spread to almost 1m acres (400,000 hectares). Bulldozers were used to dig fire breaks, but the flames spread regardless.

Guillermo Rein, professor of fire science at Imperial College London, said efforts to tackle wildfires wrongly focused on suppression techniques.

Hundreds of firefighters spend weeks tackling blazes, with millions of pounds spent on equipment, including bulldozers, retardants, helicopters and airplanes.

Fire services worldwide often rely on volunteers and seasonal firefighters who work long hours in dangerous conditions for little to no pay, said Rein and Quinn-Davidson.

This year, at least one volunteer firefighter died and two others were seriously injured tackling wildfires in Greece.

Wildfires also have an invisible but deadly impact on human health. Researchers have linked 33,510 deaths a year to wildfire pollution.

Dealing with the growing threat of wildfires involves prioritising fire prevention and landscape management.

Fire is a natural process and many landscapes around the world need fire said Cathelijne Stoof, an assistant professor specialising in wildfires at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Plants need fire to regenerate. Some need heat, some need smoke. A calm, mild fire can clear the forest underneath trees so when a big fire comes along, it doesn’t do as much damage to the ecosystem or people.

Prescribed burns, intentional off-season fires that burn leaves and old wood and create breaks in the forest, can mitigate risk.

Due to the indiscriminate spread of wildfire, human lives are endangered, as well as tourism infrastructure and superstructure. It creates a negative public image of a tourist destination.

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