Fire, together with water, air and earth are the four basic elements that explain nature. From among them all, fire is surely the most fascinating, due to its paradigmatic feature of life and destruction. This duality derives from almost 80,000 years ago, when man learned to use fire responsibly and domestically, but since then, its misuse and its involuntary spread have given fire a much-feared danger.
While fire has been one of the most relevant elements for the advancement of mankind, paradoxically it has also been -and still is- the responsible for major environmental, economic and social problems. Fire has several unwanted ways and forms affecting us, being forest, urban and industrial environments the three main scenarios in which fire has a biggest destruction potential.
Forest fires are probably the clearest example of this paradox, as the dimension of the problem they involve is growing together with the degree of development of societies. Fire is part of the metabolism of various ecological systems, and those Mediterranean in particular. For long episodes of history it has been socially desired and productive but this is no longer the case today. There are many causes that are responsible for that, but we could summarize them in three:
- The abandonment of forested and rural areas
- The failure of the primary sector
- The increasing urban demand for forest spaces
Ferran Dalmau, CEO of Medi XXI the environmental engineering company partner of the GUARDIAN project could not have said it better:
Every time a livestock farm or a cultivation field that has been producing goods and services for society for centuries is abandoned, the fire approaches the populated areas. The old safety belt (the growing fields) that protected populated areas from wildfires has been unbuckled. Every day we go faster. If no action is taken, you can imagine the outcome
These socioeconomic unbalances, together with a scenario of global warming, have given us very severe wildfire seasons, particularly in the Mediterranean, with enormous destructive potential. We could mention different fire episodes in Spain (2006, 2017), Portugal (2003, 2005 and 2017), and Greece (2000, 2007 and 2018) occurred during these last years, involving millions of hectares burnt, hundreds of deaths and economic losses of the order of dozens of billions of euros. A short footage describing the helplessness of fire-fighters, politicians and civilians in front of the fire season in Autumn 2017 in the Iberian Peninsula can be found in here: