Even under our current corona-shaped shadow, the Northern hemisphere has approached a brand new fire season – with trepidation. Even if many of us have forgotten to worry about climate change, climate change has not forgotten us.
Even under our current corona-shaped shadow, the Northern hemisphere has approached a brand new fire season – with trepidation. Even if many of us have forgotten to worry about climate change, climate change has not forgotten us. First dramatic fires this year are already ablaze in Central Siberia and in Northern Saskatchewan in Canada. They will keep crawling southward as the summer comes on and gets hotter. Every year last decade has turned out to be among the hottest ever on record and there is no reason to expect our fresh new decade to be any different.
Wildfires have made headlines on every continent recently – still remember Southern Australia last November? The warming climate has given them fierce power that often exceeds the capacity of even technologically most advanced nations to evade them. In many parts of the world, bush and forest clearing by burning for farming is still the only economically viable method. During hot and dry summers, the propensity of forests and grasslands to ignite is so dramatic – a single misplaced cigarette butt will do! – that no amount of care and education will prevent all ignitions.
Profor has at the behest of the World Bank recently published a report on Managing Wildfires in a Changing Climate. Its conclusions include investing equally in both wildfire prevention and suppression. It is well-known among fire management professionals that prevention is far more efficient in wildfire management than suppression. Yet suppression is receiving by far the largest share of fire management budgets worldwide. Compare this to investing only in emergency wards and respirators, instead of human contact suppression and lockdowns to address the corona pandemic. Wisely enough, most governments have chosen the latter priority and the pandemic has so far been contained reasonably well in countries that were first subjected to it, while not ignoring emergency wards either.
We need to find a similar balance for taming wildfires. Remote sensing and digital forestry can help in both suppression and prevention. Arbonaut is participating in suppression in a joint effort by First Resource Management Group and TerraMonitor in Canada, called FireFringe that uses freely available satellite data; and partnering with ForestWise in Portugal to apply our ArboFiRM methodology for fire prevention in Portugal, using LiDAR scanning of forests. We hope at least some Wild Fires can thus be tamed!