rising greenhouse gas emissions are set to increase the risk of wildfires over the coming decades. The destruction of homes, charred vegetation and blackened soil litter our television screens every summer and these images are her to stay. If we want to avoid the havoc and devastation brought on by wildfires from occurring annually, we will need to evolve and adapt to the new challenges posed by climate change to mitigate the effects of wildfires.
A forward-thinking fire management plan would minimize the damages caused by wildfires. Currently, when a fire is detected the fire is analyzed and the firefighting resources are assigned to where they are needed². The response is typically politically driven by the shocking images being relayed around the world and the out of fear of the effect on local communities. A better approach would be to analyze the potential damage before the fire breaks out, and ensure fire prone areas have the capabilities to handle a wildfire before it breaks out. This is usually not considered or undertaken because there is often no overall fire management system in place and each locality is responsible for itself, without a wider management program.
Automatic fire detection systems
The earlier the wildfire is detected, the quicker it can be brought under control. To reduce the detection time, many places like Indonesia, Mexico and within the European Union, have implemented automatic fire detection systems³. The computer systems analyze conditions and video to determine the likelihood of a wildfire starting and then confirm the presence of an outbreak. Some rely on infrared smoke detectors, while some are purely vision based. These technological advances help detect the fire as promptly as possible and ensure the resources can be deployed quickly to contain it.
Cutting-edge satellite technology is joining the fight against wildfires. In the United States, satellites can identify the exact location of the fire and transmit that information immediately to the forest service. The technique can alert the firefighting crews very quickly however, they can’t determine how significant the fire is. Usually a plane is required to visually assess the severity of the situation.
The use of drones in mitigating and controlling the damage of wildfires is also being explored. Once the fire is identified the drone can investigate and loiter near the fire without risking human life. In the future drone technology coupled with satellite technology could be a cost-effective way of promptly identifying and investigating the severity of wildfires, without putting human life in danger⁴.
Minimizing the damage to private properties
One of the costliest effects of a wildfire is the destruction of home and property. If the management techniques in place have been unable to bring a fire under control and wildfire reaches residences, the effects are catastrophic for those involved. Lives and memories can go up in smoke.
If the building materials of the house can ignite easily, fires can wipe out whole communities relatively quickly as they pass from house to house. This happened in 2010 when a fire in Fourmile Canyon burnt 168 homes and caused $220 million in losses⁵. The fire began destroying properties fairly early on, before the fire had reached a high level of intensity, and easily spread across the community.
There are some actions we can take to minimize the damage done to property by wildfires. There are ways of constructing homes to minimize the damage of wildfires. Constructing properties from tile or brick, at least 100 feet away from other combustible materials would make them much less likely to ignite⁶. Maintaining roofs properly to prevent embers being blown into the attic is also essential to prevent fires entering the property.
Keeping wildfires in mind when constructing properties in fire prone areas will help ensure that when the fires start, communities will be better prepared to stop the spread and mitigate the damage.
New methods are essential to prevent wildfires from reaping their destruction across global forest habitats. With the development of new technologies, we will be able to streamline responses but managing the resources needs to be undertaken in the most effective way possible to utilize these technologies. It is important we get this right sooner rather than later, as temperatures rise and wildfires look set to become a more frequent occurrence in our planet´s future.