Monday, September 27

What is a sixth generation fire and why do experts believe that the Sierra Bermeja fire is?


The Sierra Bermeja fire, in the province of Malaga, is unique in terms of the context in which it occurs. In Spain there have already been fires called “sixth generation” like this one but the proximity of towns and urbanizations has made, together with the abandonment of the management of the natural environment and the effects of climate change, it has become an “unusual” fire . The concept of generations of fires has to do with how the behavior of the fire is related to the structure of the landscape. Two issues that interact in a forest fire and that, depending on the circumstances, make us talk about a fire of one type or another.

Sierra Bermeja burns shortly after its inclusion in the Sierra de las Nieves National Park was requested

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Because what does it mean to be a sixth generation fire? What are the preceding five generations? Cristina Montiel, who since 1997 directs the Research Group ‘Forest Geography, Policy and Socioeconomics’ at the Complutense University of Madrid, explains that since a process of rural exodus took place in the middle of the 20th century and agricultural uses were abandoned, fires have evolved. First, gaining speed in growing areas that were no longer cultivated (first generation). Then, the abandonment of a growing forest mass, as a result of the above (second generation), and the landscape dichotomy: hyper-concentrated urban areas in metropolitan areas and, on the other hand, the void of the countryside (third generation), where “so Big as the forest stain is, as big as the fire is going to be. ”

To explain the fourth and fifth generation fires, Montiel takes into account the urbanization that began to occur in the 1990s in forest areas “without any perimeter belt.” They are “forest urban interface” fires, explains the expert. “Fourth generation fires are brutally dangerous and we have had them in Spain for many years, no less than since 1994, and almost no one talks about those. Urbanizations and villas that are in the middle of the countryside.” The so-called fifth generation began to be produced “in California, in Australia, with a territory already contaminated, such as the Canary Islands or Valencia, where the forest can no longer be differentiated from urbanization.” “It is all mixed up and forms a territorial continuum of many kilometers.” To this is added climate change “and that means that the atmosphere is going to work in a very erratic way and in that fire you can no longer defend anyone, people die, because the fire has become an almost exclusively protection problem. civil”.

An entity “with a life of its own”

And, at this point, the expert tells us about what a sixth generation fire entails. A “monster”, an “entity with a soul”, a “cloud of fire” with a “life of its own”. It is the new generation of forest fires, which already took place 25 years ago in the peninsula, specifically in Catalonia, in the region of Solsonès and part of Bages and La Segarra. It is a new reality that must be borne in mind and that, as is happening in Sierra Bermeja, in Malaga, has as a common element the greater presence of houses and buildings in forest areas, to which is added the rise in temperature with the change climate. Abandonment of forest management is the third factor that makes fire, something natural in the ecosystem, become something that cannot be fought against and whose voracity only calms down with favorable weather conditions.

Montiel considers that in a fire of these characteristics “the extinguishing capacity is no longer only lost, with flames of more than three meters high, unaffordable temperatures, where airplanes no longer serve me at all and where the only thing that can be to do are firebreaks, burn fuel to put up barriers and that when it arrives there will be nothing to burn “. “It is like war. When a sixth generation fire is reached in an area, you are lost, because the fire has just become an entity with a soul. It has become a thing, a monster that goes free and the fire it’s going to develop its own atmosphere, “he says. “Fire will generate what we call convective processes, where we already forget the wind, the relief, the vegetation. It is a whirlwind that will develop a convection process that will give rise to what we call pyrocumulus.”

The thing is not there. “Let’s hope we don’t have the bad luck that it collapses and is an explosive fire. As that pyrocumulus reaches the ceiling, it will directly rain fire. That is what happened in California and it is very dangerous. They are the sixth generation fires, and Unfortunately, you cannot fight them. The only thing you can do is develop a defensive strategy, try to establish priorities and defend what matters most to you. You will not be able to contain the fire. The only thing you can do is try to direct it to where it can do the least damage, and for the weather conditions to change, because the fire can only be put out that way. The sixth generation has to do with the abandonment of management and with climate change “.

More intense, more complex

According to Luis Galiana, professor of Regional Geographic Analysis at the Autonomous University of Madrid and specialist in landscape, the model of the generations “was proposed to explain a little the evolution of fires since the 60s, approximately, when the transformations in rural areas began to take place”, and “they have been increasing in complexity and in its intensity “. “Elements have been added that have to do with an increasingly complex scenario”, for example the presence of urban forest interfaces “, areas in which” forest agents come into contact with built-up areas of second homes, residential developments or even now too, as is happening right now in Sierra Bermeja, with towns “.

The expert explains that a series of elements have appeared that have led this model to make forest fires an increasingly complex reality to address in their extinction. “The key element, beyond the fuel, the complexity of the extinguishing tasks, etc., is its autonomy, which has almost achieved a life of its own. Seeing the behavior of this type of fire, it seems that the fire has intelligence, something difficult to understand and admit unless you have seen it. It moves looking for the areas where there is more fuel in an autonomous way. It creates its own fire environment, with its own consecutive meteorological conditions and generates a highly complex scenario “, aim.

Galiana indicates that fires like this one in Sierra Bermeja have occurred in central Catalonia in the 1990s, which “really anticipated these behaviors.” They were, as Marc Castellnou, cap dels GRAF dels Bombers said, as “a window to the future” of how the fires were going to be 25 years later. “They also occurred in Portugal, in Pedrógão, in July 2017.” This seems respond to these patterns, although it is still too early to say and will have to be analyzed in greater detail, but it also seems to respond to these same characteristics “, he points out.

The key is in the forest urban interface, that is to say, that “the mountain increasingly presents more building pollution”. “There are more and more urbanizations and elements that make, when a fire occurs, the complexity of the extinction work is brutal. Almost more than addressing what we could say to the attack on the fire fronts, we must attend to that emergency of civil protection. Towns have to be evicted, housing estates have to be protected, and that means that opportunities for attack are simply lost. With a few hundred hectares, these complexities that we are talking about can be perfectly produced, “says Galiana.



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