Social Dimensions of Forest Fires
Forest fires are the most significant threat that forests and wooded areas in southern Europe face. In the context of climate change, land use changes that reinforce landscape-level flammability, together with the loss and ageing of populations in rural areas, fire is a problem that can escalate to levels never before seen. This was the case in the wildfires of October 2017, in Portugal, which were considered the largest pyro-convective phenomenon registered in Europe and in the world, with an average of 10.000 hectares burnt per hour. These fires resulted in 48 fatalities and point towards the urgency of educating populations in terms of risks, preparedness and resilience, and improving the efficiency of communications between first responders, command centre and citizens.
The social dimension of forest fires can assume many shapes, considering the role of populations on integrated fire management models. In the words of Fernandes (2015), “people not only cause ﬁres but also shape the vegetation (fuel) environment through land use choices and practices, and this, along with weather and topography, will determine ﬁre behaviour and impacts.” This means that fire prevention, land and fuel management – before and after a fire -, community resilience and fire extinction, all play significant roles. The focus is not only on citizens but also on the responsible agents, via education, training and communication.