GFMC Calendar 2019

January | February| March | April | May| June | July | August | September | October | November| December

Preparation of GFMC activities in 2019

January 2019

03 January 2019
Meeting of the National Committee on Perspectives of Landscape Fire Management in Greece; Thessaloniki / Athens, Greece.

10 January 2019
On-site field inspection of Calluna vulgaris heathland conservation areas for preparation of prescribed burning, Gluecksburger Heide, Sachsen Anhalt State (J.G. Goldammer); Seyda, Elster, Germany.

The Gluecksburger Heide is a former military training and shooting range of the German Air force (until 1945) and the Soviet Army (1945-1990), nowadays a conservation area belong to the DBU Naturerbe GmbH (German Federal Environment Foundation) and is managed by the German Federal Forest Service. Rapid forest succession and invasion is threatening the protected heathland and requires the use of prescribed fire to regenerate Calluna vulgaris and halt the invasion of tree cover. – On-site field visit by GFMC, the German Service Provider for Fire and Disaster Protection DiBuKa and the Federal Forest Service. Photos: Luftbild Digital.

28-30 January 2019
Second Workshop of the Thematic Working Group Landscape Fire Crisis Mitigation (TWG-C) of the project FIRE-IN – Fire and Rescue Innovation Network, a project conducted in the frame of the EU Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2016-2017 Secured Societies – Protecting Freedom and Security of Europe and its Citizens (SEC-21-GM-2016-2017 – Pan-European Networks of Practitioners and other Actors in the Field of Security), chaired by GFMC (L. Pronto, J.G. Goldammer); Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Officiers de Sapeurs-Pompiers (ENSOSP), Aix-en-Provence, France.

Opening of the Workshop by the Leadership of the host ENSOSP and by GFMC

Participants of the workshop include FIRE-IN Partners and Associated Experts from all over Europe
Photos: ENSOSP

31 January 2019

Internal kickoff meeting of the implementation of the project “Network of European hubs for civil protection and crisis management”, with pilot hub “Wildfire Risk Management” (GFMC partner) (L. Pronto, J.G. Goldammer); Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Officiers de Sapeurs-Pompiers, Aix-en-Provence, France.

February 2019

01 February 2019
Tripartite online conference between the Secretariat of the European and Mediterranean Major Hazards Agreement (EUR-OPA) (G. Silvestrini), the Secretariat of the German Committee for Disaster Reduction (DKKV) (B. Thiebes) and with GFMC (J.G. Goldammer) on future collaboration between EUR-OPA and DKKV; Strasbourg, Bonn, Freiburg.

GFMC online meeting with EUR-OPA Secretariat. From left: G. Silvestrini and P. Cadeac.

07-08 February 2019
Submission of the Report of the Committee on the Future of Landscape Fire Management and Wildfire Risk Reduction in Greece (GFMC Chair) to the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Alexis Tsipras, and the President of the Hellenic Parliament, Mr. Nikolaos Voutsis, and the leaders of the Parliamentary Commissions leaders (Mrs. Aikaterini Igglezi, MP and Chair of the Special Standing Committee on the Protection of the Environment; Mrs. Chara Kafantari, MP and Chair of the Standing Committee on Production and Commerce; Mr. Mr Antonios Syrigos, MP and Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Administration, Public Order and Justice); Briefing of the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Prokopis Pavlopoulos; Press Conference and meeting with Members of the Hellenic Parliament; Maximos Mansion, Hellenic Parliament, Presidential Mansion (Proedrikό Mégaro), Athens, Greece.

18 February 2019
Meeting of the Economic and Environment Committee of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with GFMC report on the results of activities in Landscape Fire Disaster Risk Reduction in OSCE Participating States (J.G. Goldammer); OSCE Secretariat, Hofburg, Vienna, Austria.

With the presentation “The Involvement of the OSCE in Wildfire Disaster Risk Reduction: A Retrospective of Joint Efforts with the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) 2006-2018” the head of GFMC reported about the progress in development of fire management capacities in OSCE Participating States, which led to the Basel OSCE Ministerial Council Decision No. 6/2014 “Enhancing Disaster Risk Reduction” and the post-Basel fire management / wildfire DRR agenda 2015-2018 in the Participating States. Photo: OSCE Secretariat.

21 February 2019
Joint consultation on the future of Landscape Fire Management in Germany with the heads of the German Federal Forest Service (BIMA Sparte Bundesforst), Mr. Gunther Brinkman, and the German Federal Agency for Disaster Relief (Bundesanstalt Technisches Hilfswerk THW), Mr. Alfred Broemme), and the Director of GFMC (Johann Georg Goldammer); BIMA Bundesforst, Bonn, Germany.

23 February – 03 March 2019

Field mission addressing fire management and policy development in Madagascar in the frame of the project “Projet d’appui pour le renforcement des capacités en économie de la gestion durable et de la dégradation des terres”, a cooperative project between the Laboratoire Terres Paysages et Développement (LLandDev) du Département des Eaux et Forêts, Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Agronomiques (ESSA-Forêts), the German Development Corporation GIZ and the SV BoDeN Initiative “ELD et ProSol“ (J.G. Goldammer) ; Antananarivo, Ankarafantsika (Tanà + Boeny), Madagascar.

Wildfires may soon be uninsurable risks for homeowners

Wildfires may soon be uninsurable risks for homeowners

13 December 2018

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Homeowners in wildfire-prone areas of California and other Western states now have yet another worry: Insurers have issued an ominous warning that they could be facing a “wildfire deductible” in coming years or, even worse, the prospect of having their home insurance canceled altogether.

The surprising scenario came in part from Aon, the largest insurance broker in the U.S., where meteorologist Steve Bowen pointed out that fire losses have exceeded $10 billion for the second year running. In California, the Camp Fire alone has killed 86 people and damaged or destroyed nearly 20,000 homes.

House fires of almost any kind have traditionally been covered under home insurance policies — no questions asked. But “risks that were once insurable … will become uninsurable,” said Birny Birnbaum, executive director of the Center for Economic Justice. “Insurers have long excluded wind in coastal states and earthquake and flood everywhere from homeowners’ policies.”

California utility PG&E to spend $6 billion on wildfire safety


California utility PG&E to spend $6 billion on wildfire safety

05 September 2018

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USA – (Reuters) – U.S. utility PG&E Corp, blamed by California officials for some of the state’s deadliest wildfires last year, said on Monday it expects to spend about $6 billion on wildfire safety through 2023.

The company, which posted a rise in third-quarter profit, faces billions of dollars in potential payouts from lawsuits after California said PG&E’s power lines were responsible for sparking the firestorm last autumn.

The firestorm killed 46 people, scorched 245,000 acres and destroyed 8,900 homes.

California’s biggest utility said on Monday it recorded $18 million in charges related to the wildfires in the reported quarter. The company took a charge of $2.5 billion in the second quarter. (

In September, California’s legislature passed a bill that could help the utility avoid potentially crippling liabilities for wildfires that ravaged northern parts of the San Francisco Bay Area.

“While we believe this bill represents a constructive initial step, more important work remains,” said Chief Executive Officer Geisha Williams on a post-earnings call.

Reuters reported in August that PG&E had hired a law firm to explore debt restructuring options.

The company’s shares were up 2.5 percent at $48.62 in afternoon trading.

New report outlines air pollution measures that can save millions of lives

New report outlines air pollution measures that can save millions of lives

01 November 2018

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GLOBAL – Geneva, October 30, 2018: Millions of lives could be saved and one billion people living in Asia could be breathing clean air by 2030 if 25 simple and cost-effective measures are implemented, according to a new UN report. Currently, about 4 billion people – 92 per cent of Asia and the Pacific’s population – are exposed to levels of air pollution that pose a significant risk to their health.

The report, Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific: Science-based Solutions, is the first comprehensive scientific assessment of the air pollution outlook in Asia and the Pacific. It details 25 policy and technological measures that will deliver benefits across sectors.

According to the report, effectively implementing the 25 measures would result in a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide and a 45% reduction in methane emissions, preventing up to a third of a degree Celsius in global warming. Resulting reductions in ground-level ozone would reduce crop losses by 45% for maize, rice, soy and wheat combined.

Approximately 7 million people worldwide die prematurely each year from air pollution related diseases, with about 4 million of these deaths occurring in Asia-Pacific. The reductions in outdoor air pollution from the 25 measures could reduce premature mortality in the region by one third, and help avoid about 2 million premature deaths from indoor air pollution.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said: “It is an unfortunate fact that breathing clean air, the most basic of human needs, has become a luxury in many parts of the world. But there are numerous tried and tested solutions that we can put in place now to solve this problem. Implementing these air quality measures is not only good for health and the environment, it can also boost innovation, job creation and economic growth.”

Implementing the 25 measures is projected to cost US$300–600 billion per year, only about 5% of the projected annual GDP increase of US$12 trillion. In addition to delivering substantial benefits to human health, food production, environmental protection and climate change mitigation, a basket of co-benefits will accrue, including savings on pollution control.

The analysis takes the region’s considerable diversity into account and groups the selected measures into three categories:

Conventional emission controls focusing on emissions that lead to the formation of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). This includes activities like: increased emissions standards and controls on vehicles, power plants, and large- and small-scale industry.
Further (next-stage) air-quality measures for reducing emissions that lead to the formation of PM2.5 and are not yet major components of clean air policies in many parts of the region. This includes activities like: Reducing the burning of agricultural and municipal solid waste, preventing forest and peatland fires, and proper management of livestock manure.
Measures contributing to development priority goals with benefits for air quality. This includes activities like: providing clean energy for households, improving public transport and promoting the use of electric vehicles, using renewable energy for electricity generation, and working with oil and gas companies to stop flaring and reduce methane leaks.
The 25 clean air measures are not equally appropriate for every part of Asia-Pacific. The region’s diversity means the measures must be tailored, prioritized and implemented according to national conditions.

The report is a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment), the Asia Pacific Clean Air Partnership (APCAP), and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), and was launched at WHO’s first Global Conference on Air Pollution and

The full report can be accessed HERE


GFMC entrusted by the Prime Minister of Greece to lead a National Committee on Perspectives of Landscape Fire Management in Greece

09 August 2018 – Last Update: 14 February 2019

On 23 July 2018 fast-moving wildfires near Athens affected the resorts Kineta and Mati and resulted in the death of 100 people, numerous injuries and the loss of critical infrastructures, houses, and private assets. Following the publication of statements by the head of the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), Prof. Dr. Johann Georg Goldammer, by the Greek News Agency ANA-MPA on 4 August 2018, a phone conversation between the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Alexis Tsipras, was held on 7 August 2018. In this phone conversation, Prime Minister Tsipras asked Prof. Goldammer if he would be available to set up and lead a committee under the aegis of GFMC. The aim of the committee will be to investigate the underlying causes of the wildfire risks in the country and to develop recommendations for required reforms and policy measures in order to increase the resilience of the natural, cultural and urban-industrial landscapes of Greece and the people living therein against wildfires, and to prevent such disastrous events in the future. On a press conference on 9 August 2018, the Prime Minister added that the move aimed at excluding any possibility of political influence and biased findings.

After having accepted this proposal the head of GFMC met with the Prime Minister Tsipras on 23 August 2018 at the Maximos Mansion in Athens.

An agreement was reached about further procedures and the modus operandi of the “Committee on Perspectives of Landscape Fire Management in Greece”. The head of GFMC also consulted with the parliamentary opposition leader, Mr. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to reach an agreement of multi-partisan support of the work of the Committee in the Hellenic Parliament.

The Commission decided to refrain from press interviews and other public statements, with the exemption of a few public statements in the Public TV and a News Agency (23 August 2018), at a press conference (31 October 2018) and after a National Round Table on the Future of Landscape Fire Management in Greece (11 December 2018) and the delivery of the report of the Commission to the Prime Minister and the President of the Hellenic Parliament (tentatively mid of January 2019).

On 23 August 2018 the head of GFMC met with the Prime Minister Tsipras at the Maximos Mansion. Photo: Office of the Prime Minister

On 23 September 2018, the head of Committee introduced the Liaison Team to the State Minister and Spokesperson of the Government of Greece, Mr. Dimitrios Tzanakopoulos, at the Maximos Mansion. From left to right: Giorgos Mallinis, Georgios Eftychidis, Johann Georg Goldammer, Dimitrios Tzanakopoulos, Gavriil Xanthopoulos, Ioannis Mitsopoulos, Alexander Dimitrakopoulos.

Selected reports in Greek media

Briefing of the Greek media by the Committee (from left to right: Ioannis Mitsopoulos, Gavriil Xanthopoulos, Johann Georg Goldammer, Alexander Dimitrakopoulos, Georgios Eftychidis, Giorgos Mallinis).
The Inter-Agency Round Table “Future of Landscape Fire Management in Greece”, convened by the Committee on Perspectives of Landscape Fire Management in Greece, was held in the Ministry of Citizen Protection, Athens, 11 December 2018, with the participation of the key agencies of the country involved in fire management, and representatives of civil society. Photo: G. Xanthopoulos

Delivery of the Report to the Government of Greece

On 7 February 2019 the “Report of the Independent Committee tasked to Analyze the Underlying Causes and Explore the Perspectives for the Future Management of Landscape Fires in Greece” to Prime Minister Tsipras, the President of the Hellenic Parliament and the Standing Committees on the Protection of the Environment, Production and Commerce and Public Administration, Public Order and Justice. Furthermore, the Committee briefed the Parliamentary Groups. On 8 February 2019 the report was handed over to the President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

Briefing of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Maximos Mansion by the Committee, with participation of State Minister Dimitrios Tsanakopoulos and the Secretary for Civil Protection, Ioannis Tafyllis (on 7 February 2019). Photo: Maximos.

Handing over the Report to the Hellenic Parliament. From left: Committee Chair Johann Georg Goldammer, Mr. Nikolaos Voutsis, President of the Hellenic Parliament, Mrs. Aikaterini Igglezi, MP and Chair of the Special Standing Committee on the Protection of the Environment, Mrs. Chara Kafantari, MP and Chair of the Standing Committee on Production and Commerce, Mr. Mr Antonios Syrigos, MP and Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Administration, Public Order and Justice.
©Copyright: Hellenic Parliament-Photographer: Aliki Eleftheriou

Handing over the Report to Mr. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, President, Parliamentary Group Nea Demokratia.

Handing over the Report to Mr. George Mavrotas, Vice-President, Parliamentary Group POTAMI.

Handing over the Report to the Parliamentary Group Democratic Coalition. Top left: Mr. Vasilis Kegkeroglou, Secretary; right: Mr. George Arvanitidis, Chair of the Environment & Energy Working Group

Handing over the Report to Mr. Vasileios Spyrou, Director, Parliamentary Group ENOSI KENTROON. Photo: Hellenic Parliament.

GFMC Guidelines and Training Materials in Greek language

About the GFMC

The GFMC is a subdivision of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and is associated with the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) through the Science & Technology Partnership and its membership in the former UNISDR Inter-Agency Task Force for Disaster Reduction.

In this context, the GFMC is coordinator and secretariat of the Global Wildland Fire Network, the UNISDR Wildland Fire Advisory Group and the International Fire Aviation Working Group (IFAWG). Furthermore, GFMC is serving as secretariat of the International Wildfire Preparedness Mechanism (IWPM). The Tools of the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) are aimed at advising / supporting nations and the United Nations in Capacity Building in Landscape Fire Management and Wildfire Disaster Risk Reduction.

The GMFC is serving as a Specialized Center under the European and Mediterranean Major Hazards Agreement of the Council of Europe and collaborates with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in developing national fire management policies and fire management capacities, specifically in following up the Basel OSCE Ministerial Council Decision No. 6/14 on Enhancing Disaster Risk Reduction.

Note to the Media

The GFMC and the Liaison Team will not give individual interviews. Regular press releases on this website will provide information on the progress of work.

Double as many wildfires, but nobody knows the good about it


Double as many wildfires, but nobody knows the good about it

08 August 2018

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NETHERLANDS – Drought means a greater chance of natural and forest fires. That sounds logical, during the last dry period there were several large and small wildfires. But how many hectares exactly burn down annually, how that comes and where it concentrates, is unclear.

The counter of the number of nature fire reports among the various safety regions has in any case passed the 2800, a doubling compared to last year.  “That’s all there, from big fires to a smoldering roadside”, says fire chief Spokesman Allard Schimmel. “Recently there was even a report of a planter on a balcony that smoldered, that too is a natural fire.”

There are more signs that the number of wildfires is high this year. “The deployment of our people is longer and more vehicles are shoveling because the drought is more likely to expand the fire,” says Schimmel. There have also been seven military fire suppression helicopters, for the first time since 2014.

Fire researcher Cathelijne Stoof of the University of Wageningen also sees an increase, but there is no national record of the number of burned hectares. That is a bad thing, she thinks, because: “We can expect more of this kind of dry periods in the coming years and thus more nature fires. There you can set up a landscape, but without concrete information about where and why a fire often occurs, that will be difficult. “Fire department spokesman Schimmel also prefers better registration.


Stoof is now researching the fire resistance of Dutch tree and shrub species. “We know that deciduous forest is cooler and more humid and therefore more resistant to fire than a coniferous forest, but we do not yet know whether it is better to plant an oak or a beech.” Another way to make a forest more resistant to fire is to install firebreaks, so that the fire department can do better. Also an option: cut branches to a certain height from the ground so that a fire can not climb up. “But then you have to know which areas you have to maintain, because you do not want to damage nature too much.”

There is a European registration system for forest and nature fires, but unlike other European countries, the figures for most years are missing in the Netherlands. National policy should come before that, according to Stoof. “There is certainly consultation between safety regions and landscape managers and that is going very well, but ideally we take standard fire prevention and durability into account when designing a nature area.” There is still some ground to be gained there. “

In large parts of North Holland, Gelderland, Zeeland and North Brabant code red applies, the highest alarm phase for the risk of natural fires. Not only because of the drought, but also because it blows hard. The drought is the most serious in Twente, the Achterhoek region of Central Limburg  . 



Dubbel zoveel natuurbranden, maar niemand weet er het fijne van


NETHERLANDS – Droogte betekent een grotere kans op natuur- en bosbranden. Dat klinkt logisch, tijdens de afgelopen droge periode woedden er verschillende grote en kleine natuurbranden. Maar hoeveel hectare er jaarlijks precies afbrandt, hoe dat komt en waar dit zich concentreert, is onduidelijk.

De teller van het aantal natuurbrandmeldingen bij de verschillende veiligheidsregio’s heeft de 2800 in ieder geval gepasseerd, een verdubbeling vergeleken met vorig jaar. “Daar zit alles bij, van grote branden tot een smeulende berm”, nuanceert brandweerwoordvoerder Allard Schimmel. “Laatst was er zelfs een melding van een plantenbak op een balkon die smeulde, ook dat is een natuurbrand.”

Er zijn nog meer tekenen dat het aantal natuurbranden dit jaar hoog is. “De inzet van onze mensen is langer en er rukken meer voertuigen uit, omdat er door de droogte meer kans is op uitbreiding van de brand”, zegt Schimmel. Ook zijn er zeven keer militaire blushelikopters ingezet, voor het eerst sinds 2014.

Brandonderzoeker Cathelijne Stoof van de Universiteit van Wageningen ziet ook een toename, maar een landelijke registratie van aantal afgebrande hectares is er niet. Dat is een slechte zaak, vindt zij, want: “We kunnen de komende jaren meer van dit soort droge periodes verwachten en dus meer natuurbranden. Daar kun je een landschap op inrichten, maar zonder concrete gegevens over waar en waarom een brand vaak ontstaat, wordt dat moeilijk.” Ook brandweerwoordvoerder Schimmel ziet het liefst betere registratie.


We weten dat een loofbos koeler en vochtiger en dus brand­be­sten­di­ger is dan een naaldbos

Brandonderzoeker Cathelijne Stoof van de Universiteit van Wageningen



Stoof doet nu onderzoek naar de brandbestendigheid van Nederlandse boom- en struiksoorten. “We weten dat een loofbos koeler en vochtiger en dus brandbestendiger is dan een naaldbos, maar we weten nog niet of je beter een eik of een beuk kunt planten.” Een andere manier om een bos bestendiger te maken tegen brand, is het aanleggen van brandgangen, zodat de brandweer er beter bij kan. Ook een optie: snoei takken tot een bepaalde hoogte vanaf de grond zodat een brand niet omhoog kan klimmen. “Maar dan moet je wel weten welke gebieden je zo moet onderhouden, want je wil de natuur niet te veel aantasten.”

Er is een Europees registratiesysteem van bos- en natuurbranden, maar anders dan bij andere Europese landen, ontbreken bij Nederland de cijfers voor de meeste jaartallen. Daar zou landelijk beleid voor moeten komen, vindt Stoof. “Er is zeker wel overleg tussen veiligheidsregio’s en landschapsbeheerders en dat gaat heel erg goed, maar idealiter nemen we bij de inrichting van een natuurgebied standaard brandpreventie- en bestendigheid mee. Daar is nog terrein te winnen.”

In flinke delen van Noord-Holland, Gelderland, Zeeland en Noord-­Brabant geldt code rood, de hoogste alarmfase voor het risico natuurbranden. Niet alleen vanwege de droogte, maar ook omdat het hard waait. In Twente, de Achterhoeken Midden-Limburg is de droogte het ernstigst


15th International Wildland Fire Safety Summit and 5th Human Dimensions Conference

10-14 December 2018, Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A.)

It has been more than 20 years since the social impacts of wildfires have begun to draw significant attention from policymakers and land managers. And the adverse effects on people, biodiversity, landscapes and infrastructure show no signs of abating given current trends in climate change. As a global community of practitioners and scientists interested in human dimensions and safety, we seek to spark discussion, interaction and engaged conversation about whether we are focusing on the right problem framing and consequent solutions to deal with these on-going wildfire challenges.

Since 1997, the Wildland Fire Safety Summit has been the gathering place for members of the international wildland fire community to focus on safety: to discuss significant events and trends in safety, to promote best practices in safety training and operations, to reveal safety related research findings, and to explore new approaches to safety.

Since 2007, the Human Dimensions Conference has been a gathering place to present, discuss, and learn about the latest research findings, management innovations, and best practices in the US and elsewhere related to human behavior.

This joint conference offers a forum where past experience and lessons learned are documented, current work showcased, and emerging ideas/technology presented to provide a strong foundation that will facilitate setting a course to the future that addresses and responds to developing challenges locally, regionally, and globally.

Important Dates

  • Early Registration Opens: 18 June 2018
  • Call for Presentations: 18 June – 15 August 2018
  • Presenters Notified: 15 September 2018
  • Program finalized: 15 October 2018
  • Hotel Room Block Expires: November 14 Conference: December 10-14, 2018

Conference Website

Armageddon as wildfires ignite forest around Komsomolsk-on-Amur

Armageddon as wildfires ignite forest around Komsomolsk-on-Amur

13 May 2018

Published by

RUSSIA – A time lapse video covering two hours shows the carnage with local resident Artyom Zarubin commenting: ‘The hill on the right bank of the Amur continues to burn.

‘Now the fire moves only in one direction, towards the village of Belgo.’

Locals say the authorities have failed to tackle the fires – with smoke fumes stifling the Far East city.

City community posted several pictures with the caption: ‘We watched the taiga burning on the right bank; there were no attemps to extinguish the inferno from helicopters or planes.

‘Today the city turned into a smoky hell.’

Anna Drekachenko in comments said: ‘I live surrounded by constant wildfires (with) smoke, and toxic pollution from an oil processing plant.’

‘Now the hill right opposite the city on the other bank of Amur River is on fire.’

She says fires have been raging in the vicinity for a month, and accused the authorities of ‘impotence’.

Another resident posted pictures of burning fields.

A train driver filmed how his train on the Baikal Amur Mainline was confronted by burning forest – graphically highlighting the catastrophic situation as the wildfire season grips eastern Russia.

‘We live and work in such complicated circumstances’, he commented.

The video was believed to have been filmed in the same Amur region near Tynda.

Newspaper Amurskaya Pravda reported: ‘The Amur region is living in emergency mode.

‘The fire is coming very close to the facilities of Russian Railways.’

Firefighting trains were sent out to douse the flames near the tracks.

On May 10, the fire approached Ulyanovskiy stroitel station.





Wildfire warriors: the latest developments in aerial firefighting technology


Wildfire warriors: the latest developments in aerial firefighting technology

14 February 2018

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UK/GFMC – From the devastating blazes that reduced more than a million acres of California to ashes late last year to the ferocious flames that tragically killed 66 people in Portugal, 2017 was a record year for wildfires. Across southern Europe, lives were lost and homes destroyed as dry, hot weather and strong winds led to a doubling of the usual number of forest fires; meanwhile, in the US the forest service spent a record $2bn tackling the problem.

Furthermore, while 2017 was a dramatic year, experts fear we could see more of the same in the years ahead as a combustible combination of climate-change induced extreme weather and increasing levels of human activity in fire-risk areas fuels longer and more severe fire seasons.

Against this backdrop, with wildfires burning hotter and for longer, the skills and expertise of those charged with battling the flames are being tested to the limits. And fire experts, engineers and industry are working together to identify ways in which technology, from drones to AI simulation systems, can help firefighters – particularly those attacking the blaze from above – gain the upper hand more quickly.

The aerial firefighting process typically begins with the deployment of the sector’s special forces: so-called hot shots – elite wildland firefighters – and their even more exotically named colleagues, the smokejumpers, who risk their lives by parachuting in to the heart of fire-hit areas.

In an operation with obvious military parallels, these experts rapidly assess the situation, decide on a plan of action, liaise with ground crews and call in the water-bombers – aircraft that are used to either directly attack the blaze or, through carefully targeted indirect attacks, reduce its intensity and put down lines of retardant to stop it from spreading, and help crews on the ground tackle it head on.

A wide variety of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters are used: from small, modified agricultural sprayers (so-called single-engine air tankers) able to drop around 3,000 litres (793 US gallons), through to much larger aircraft that carry retardant in huge tanks mounted on their bellies.

The undisputed monster of this curious backwater of the aerospace sector is the Global SuperTanker, a modified jumbo jet able to carry almost 73,000 litres (19,200 US gallons) of retardant. The aircraft, the only one of its kind, grabbed the headlines late last year when it was used to combat the wildfires in southern California.

Although fixed-wing aircraft are typically used for indirect attacks (Global SuperTanker is reportedly able to lay down continuous retardant lines of up to 3km), helicopters, thanks to their hovering ability, are often preferred for direct attacks.

And, if Global SuperTanker is the beast of the fixed-wing world, its rotary cousin is surely Erickson Aviation’s S-64 Aircrane, a twin-engine heavy-lift helicopter able to hold almost 10,000 litres of water. Originally produced by Sikorsky as the S-64 Skycrane but heavily modified for firefighting, this unusual-looking aircraft was used alongside the Global SuperTanker to battle last year’s California wildfires.

According to Erickson’s chief pilot, veteran aerial firefighter Randy Erwin, a major benefit of the Aircrane is that it does not have to return to base to reload. Instead, it can suck up water wherever it finds it using a device known as a pond snorkel – essentially a flexible hose equipped with a pump that hangs below the aircraft’s landing gear.

“When immersed in a minimum of 18 inches of water, it will push water into the tank at a rate of 3,000-plus gallons per minute, and take [just] 40 seconds to get a full load,” said Erwin.

The Aircrane also boasts a salt-water derivative of the pond snorkel, which dispenses with the pump and fills the tank by holding the snorkel in place and using the forward motion of the helicopter to force water up its tube.

When it comes to dropping the payload, the aircraft uses water volume data from sensors within the tank to enable its pilot to precisely regulate the amount of water dropped on the fire: the so-called coverage level.

“If the tank knows how much water is in there, it can compute what the head pressure is on the doors. And, when the pilot selects [for example] coverage level 5 [equivalent to 5 US gallons of water per 10 square feet], the doors will open just enough to give that coverage. As the quantity in the tank decreases, it tells the door to open more and more to maintain the same rate,” said Erwin.

The headline-grabbing use of aircraft such as Global SuperTanker and Aircrane has certainly contributed to a perception that the wildfire battle has moved up a notch, but is the situation really getting worse?

Professor Johann Goldammer, a leading authority on wildfires and director of the Global Fire Monitoring Centre (GFMC) at Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Chemistry, is in no doubt. He told The Engineer that changing seasonal patterns linked to climate change were producing longer, more severe, fire seasons.

“A region like the West Coast of the US is experiencing an increasingly longer fire season that now seems to be all year long,” said Prof Goldammer, adding that this was being compounded by altered patterns of human behaviour.

“We are modifying the land by clear cutting, inhabiting, entering, industry, agriculture and so on. With this, the fire regimes and the vulnerabilities of ecosystems are changing.”

It’s a view shared by Bob Gann, acting director at the Colorado Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting. “[Wildfires are] getting worse because people are intruding on areas and we are changing the field loads in the forest,” he said.

Gann’s team is at the forefront of exploring how technology can help firefighters meet this evolving challenge. A key avenue of research is the development of tools that could enable firefighters to tackle blazes at night.

In many ways the conditions at night-time are ideal for firefighting: reduced temperatures, increased humidity and often lighter winds cause fires to ‘stand down’, providing a window of opportunity for crews on the ground. Surprisingly, though, very little night-time firefighting takes place, with the advantages of more favourable conditions often outweighed by concerns over poor visibility and, consequently, an increased risk of collision.

Night-vision systems similar to those used by the military seem to be a ready-made solution here. However, according to Gann, these technologies struggle with the contrast between darkness and the glare of a fire, and his team is investigating the application of augmented reality (AR) technology specially optimised for firefighting.

Similar efforts are under way in Europe. Jean Michel Dumaz heads the SAFE cluster in the south of France, a public organisation aimed at driving technology development and collaboration across a range of security and defence applications.

“In France, major stronger fires occur in the afternoon when the wind picks up and weather gets hotter,” he said, “But after 10pm the conditions are very good.”

Dumaz added that SAFE is currently supporting a project known as Extrem OWL, which is developing an augmented-reality vision system for firefighting helicopter pilots, led by French image-processing specialist Nexvision.

Another way of addressing the human risk of flying at night, of course, is to remove the pilot altogether by using drones, or unmanned air systems (UAS). In the US in particular, drones are already becoming an indispensable part of the wildfire fighter’s arsenal. The US Department of the Interior (DoI) operates around 350 remotely operated quadcopters, 100 or so of which are used specifically for firefighting reconnaissance and mapping missions. Last year alone the DoI flew around 660 flights to tackle 71 wildfires across the country.

Brad Koeckeritz, the DoI’s division chief for unmanned aircraft, explained that drones provided a capability that did not exist before: enabling fire crews to carry out aerial reconnaissance when it was simply too dangerous to use manned aircraft.

“We had literally dozens of aircraft sitting on the ground in California because the smoke was too thick for them to fly,” he told The Engineer. “But we were able to use the drones and put VR goggles on one of the leaders on the fire-line that needed to know what the fire was doing.”

Increasingly, this capability is helping firefighters take swift action and prevent smaller fires from getting out of control. Koeckeritz said there were numerous occasions during last year’s operations in California when drones, operating in visibility too poor for manned aircraft, were able to detect spot-fires that had broken across the fire-line and direct resources to them.

Chad Runyan, UAS programme manager for the US Forest Service, which is a major user of the technology, added that the availability of drones was also making it easier to get other new systems in to the field.

“You can’t just put any old camera or transmitter onto a manned aircraft without going through many hurdles and sometimes years of approval processes,” he said. “But with a drone you can talk to a manufacturer and be off and running with the latest and greatest camera systems.”

While most existing applications are for monitoring and reconnaissance, Runyan envisages drones ultimately being used for firefighting. Far-fetched as this may sound, the forest service has already carried out unmanned firefighting trials, working with Lockheed Martin to demonstrate how an unmanned version of the Kaman Aerospace KMAX helicopter could be used to fight fires.

“You’re going to see people taking our existing fleet of aircraft and turning them into optionally piloted aircraft”, said Runyan, adding that this would enable agencies to move aircraft around the country in manned mode before switching them to unmanned mode in a firefighting zone.

Drones are also beginning to play a role in more strategic reconnaissance. During last year’s fires, California’s state firefighting agency used Reaper UAVs – military aircraft developed by General Atomics – to monitor fires and transmit information to commanders on the ground.

In the longer term, Koeckeritz thinks even higher-altitude autonomous vehicles, able to stay aloft for months at a time, will be a key tool in the firefighting armoury. The DoI has, he said, been actively studying applications of Google’s stratospheric balloon initiative, Project Loon, which is exploring the use of networks of high-altitude balloons to bring connectivity to remote areas.

“We’re working with them to network a series of balloon systems in western states, for persistent communication systems, with camera systems at 65,000ft that can cover a wide area and be either looking for hotspots or doing mapping or a live feed,” he said.

Although the attraction of stratospheric systems is that they offer many of the advantages of satellites without the expensive launch costs, developments in satellite technology are also likely to help firefighters in the years ahead.

Sean Triplett of the US Forest Service said satellites had been used for a number of years to understand the impact of wildfires, but the emergence of cubesats – smaller, lower-cost devices that are becoming increasingly widely used by the research community – holds great promise for wildfire monitoring. These diminutive spacecraft could, he said, be launched into orbit in flocks of up to 200, providing far more persistent coverage than existing orbiting satellites, which typically passed by only every four to six hours.

“If they were on 15-minute repeat intervals, you’d be able to look at the same spot of land and start doing rapid-change detection as the fires were burning and the smoke was moving around,” said Triplett.

With drones, satellites, and stratospheric platforms providing a detailed, unblinking view of the drama unfolding below, there will be no shortage of data available to the future firefighter. However, arguably the biggest challenge of all is getting this information out into the field in a useful form as quickly as possible. This is particularly difficult in the US, which, unlike Europe, has patchy cellular coverage.

“The biggest problem we have when we fight wildfires is they’re in very remote rugged terrain,” said Triplett. “There are very limited databands available and, in most cases, the cellular network doesn’t exist.

“We’re not looking to send imagery to the firefighters; they don’t need pretty pictures. They want to see vector data: what the fire is and where it’s burning. The challenges are getting a disseminated product over a network that’s not designed to handle any sort of volume at all.”

A possible solution is being explored by Gann’s team in Colorado. Its ‘Datalink’ project is trialling a prototype radio system that could send basic situational awareness data such as points, lines and polygons directly to pilots’ smartphones.

“In the western US, a lot of places don’t have that much in terms of a network,” said Gann. “We need something we can apply to hundreds of firefighters, not just one or two.”

Gann’s team is also exploring how the data acquired by today’s monitoring systems could feed in to highly accurate fire-prediction systems – tools that could have a major impact on how firefighters plan their response.

Although fire-modelling simulations are already in use, the systems are limited, said Gann, partly because the weather data used is not very reliable. In an effort to change this, the Colorado team is working with the NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) to develop a system using a detailed weather model called High Resolution Rapid Refresh, which is far more predictive than existing tools. Gann said the system was currently being validated and could be out in the field in just a couple of years.

Similar work is under way in Europe through the TechForFire project, an initiative led by French information systems specialist Noveltis, which is developing tools to combine live data acquired by cameras on the front line with weather models and wind information to predict how the fire will develop. SAFE’s Dumaz says the system is being trialled by several fire departments.

Back at the GFMC, Prof Goldammer is heartened and impressed by the speed of technical innovation. The biggest challenge as he sees it is ensuring that these various technologies are not developed in isolation; that industry and agencies around the world work together to share expertise and knowledge.

And, while it may be tempting to view wildfires as a local phenomenon and therefore unlikely to galvanise a concerted international approach, there is, he said, a compelling reason for a united effort: the fires that consume up to six million square km of land around the world every year are thought to be responsible for the net emission of 0.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

“Unlike other disasters, the emissions from these fires are all transported to the common, global shared atmosphere,” said Goldammer, “and the atmosphere doesn’t distinguish if this greenhouse gas is coming from a fire in California or Siberia. It’s there, it’s circulating around the world and it’s part of the increasingly warming atmosphere.”