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COORDINATIONFrancisco Castro Rego (CEABN).

CEABN TEAM: Carlo Bifulco, Conceição Colaço, Filipe Catry, Francisco Castro Rego, Francisco Moreira e Liliana Bento.

OTHER INSTITUTIONS: The Fire Paradox consortium includes 36 partners from 16 different countries, but concentrates on Mediterranean European countries most affected by fires: Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and also two Maghreb countries - Tunisia and Morocco.

URL: http://www.fireparadox.org/

Fire has been for a long time an important subject of debate and a constant source of paradoxes that arise from the apparent contradiction from its controlled use in everyday life to its threats to life and property as uncontrolled wildfires. This paradox has been very well phrased in the traditional concept that “fire is a bad master but a good servant” and this was a key issue for our FIRE PARADOX European project.

These two visions of fire have been increasingly far apart, and that has been partly the result of the increased distance between traditional rural societies, that commonly used fire as a “good servant”, and modern urban societies that know fire mostly from the news, where the dominant image is fire as a “bad master”, as reported from catastrophic events. And these two contradictory views of fire are reflected in all aspects of society, shaping the laws, regulations and social acceptability of practices.

A good example of the different views in society is smoke management. Rural societies tend to accept prescribed burning as a management tool and to accept smoke as a normal consequence of fire use, understanding the major differences in predictability and smoke quantities released from prescribed fires when compared with those released from uncontrolled wildfires. On the contrary, urban societies tend to not consider differences between prescribed fires and wildfires, promoting restrictions to the use of fire that paradoxically will later result in larger wildfires and more smoke.

Possibly because of this understanding, the rural societies from areas where prescribed fire has been used more commonly do not generally try to impose any type of restrictions to prescribed fire. Therefore, because of limited use of prescribed fire or of public acceptance of its effects, smoke restrictions to the use of fire are not common in many parts of Europe.

However, because regulations about fire are very different in the various countries, the assemblage and analysis of such laws and regulations is being done within FIRE PARADOX.

Because of the importance of the historic issues, FIRE PARADOX partners have also been collecting many examples of the traditional use of fire for many reasons from grazing and hunting to the disposal of agricultural residues.

The documented use of prescribed burning in forest management for reduction of wildfire hazard goes back to the pioneering work of the German Frederick Varnhagen in the pine forests of Leiria, in Portugal in the beginning of the 19th century. And similar trends occurred in France and other European countries.

The use of prescribed fire continued in cycles, being rediscovered in the last decades with an important contribution by the Portuguese forester José Moreira da Silva. The professional and social acceptance of this technique was also a matter of time and a documentary of the importance of the pioneering contribution of scientists from the USA as Edwin and Betty Komarek on this process was shown in a documentary produced by FIRE PARADOX untitled “Fire in the Balance”.

Thirty years after the reintroduction of fire in pine forests (in Portugal and France) prescribed fire is now widely accepted, and its operational use includes generally the information of the public involved, what really contributes to its acceptance. Lessons learned with the use of fire, including interviews, images, reports on failures and success stories, etc…, they are all being compiled within the project as important resource materials for future academic and professional training.

The project partners were mainly from European countries, but it was possible to include partners from other continents, from Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa, Mongolia, Russia and Argentina. This extension of participants made it possible to incorporate a wider range of situations and visions on how the paradox of fire should be handled.

The diversity of countries and regions added to the diversity of the participants in the project. In fact, in the FIRE PARADOX consortium many teams have experience with prescribed fire, but the differences between countries and regions within countries do not allow for that to be a general feature. And the diversity of expertise was very much encouraged in the building of the project to make it possible to cover the various facets of research, development and dissemination required by the various aspects of fire (prescribed fire, initiation, propagation and suppression).

We feel that this diversity of situations and approaches within FIRE PARADOX can be captured and handled within the concept of Integrated Fire Management. This concept should take into account the historical and social aspects of fire, build upon the knowledge of fire in the various scientific disciplines, and make a good use of the technological developments. Integrated Fire Management should encompass all the issues of fire, from its use in prevention (Prescribed Fire) and firefighting (Suppression Fire), to the understanding of the processes of its start (Fire Ignition) and Spread (Fire Propagation).

We believe that the use of the concept of Integrated Fire Management and its application will help solving the apparent contradiction between fire as a “bad master” and “good servant”. We believe that a wise use of fire and its application in management will very much benefit the handling of fire suppression, and recent experience in Portugal, for example, shows those benefits.

The use of fire in suppression (what we call in FIRE PARADOX suppression fire) is another innovative research area within FIRE PARADOX. Again, we investigate the historic use of fire in firefighting, the trends, the problems, the challenges, and the stories of success. And we are deeply involved in research for the understanding of the physics behind it, making use of model developments within the project but also making an extensive use of our International Advisory Committee that extends the reach of the project to the USA, Canada and Australia.

Because of its importance in suppression fires and in prescribed fires, one of the issues that are specially considered in FIRE PARADOX is the interaction between fire fronts. This is a very rich area of research, largely unknown, and with very important possible applications. Questions like the best distance between fire lines when conducting a prescribed fire, or the best opportunity to start a backfire in fire suppression, can be considered by appropriate modelling approaches and applications that are still not operationally available. This effort builds on previous research efforts done in Europe and the USA that resulted in products like FIRESTAR; FIRETEC or WFDS. Again, here, the wide range of FIRE PARADOX partners allows for that diversity of complementary approaches.

The ultimate goal of FIRE PARADOX is to have an influence on the policies and practices in fire management in Europe. However, because of the diversity of situations it is not easy to have a generalised conclusion about the acceptance by the different countries and agencies of the concept of Integrated Fire Management that includes fire use in prevention and in suppression. In France, Portugal and Spain, prescribed fire is now considered an acceptable tool for fuel management. In Italy some recent developments, mostly related to FIRE PARADOX, show that the concept is being gradually accepted, whereas no significant developments were yet observed in Greece.

The same diversity of situations is true for non-European countries and Agencies. While in South-Africa there are successful applications of prescribed fire in pine forests that is not the situation in Morocco or Tunisia. In Mongolia, the use of prescribed burning has been recently encouraged with the support of FIRE PARADOX. In Argentina, prescribed fire has been applied mostly on rangelands, and a strong renewed interest is currently very apparent in Patagonia.

Mostly because of this new interest in the use of prescribed fire in Patagonia, the 5th Plenary Meeting of FIRE PARADOX was organised in Argentina, with participants coming from many other countries in South America. This was an excellent occasion to disseminate the concept of Integrated Fire Management and to share knowledge between professionals and researchers from the various continents.

FIRE PARADOX included many other areas such as the patterns of fire ignition in relation to causes are being studied in some countries and comparisons will be made in order to detect possible general trends. Other examples could be given in areas so diverse as pyrolysis, fire detection, fire anthropology or fire policies.

FIRE PARADOX was a large research project on fire, including various disciplines and approaches, technological developments, and dissemination strategies. But all of those served the ultimate purpose of influencing policies and practices to consider Integrated Fire Management with a significant components of fire use in prevention and suppression.