Challenges to Landscape Fire Management during the COVID-19 Pandemic
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic the community of scientists, policy & decision makers and practitioners in landscape fire management have responded to the challenges arising. The Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) and the international professional community of fire managers have to address biological hazards (such as COVID-19) and other hazards related to human health if these hazards are consequences of or otherwise related to landscape fires. Examples include the risk to be affected by poisonous plants or animals, or adverse hygienic conditions for field personnel. However, most important are the effects of emissions (smoke pollution) from landscape fires. These affect primarily firefighters but also the public, often during close-to ground smoke pollution that may last for several days to weeks. A special GFMC website provides the scientific-technical library for fire emissions and impacts on the environment, atmosphere and human health:
The background information includes assessments of premature mortality caused by emissions from landscape fires globally. For enhancing the preparedness of authorities concerned with public health and security, the UN WHO, WMO and UNEP the GFMC has prepared the “Health Guidelines on Vegetation Fire Events”:
Regions and local communities of countries may suffer effects of multiple stresses on human health, particularly on the respiratory system: Fire smoke contains particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers, which are small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs. Fire- and wind-driven smoke plumes of large fires also may carry small dust particles. Dangerous pollutants can be released if wildfires are burning into waste deposits, peri-urban structures and industrial sites, e.g. dioxin:
COVID-19 infection causes pneumonia that can be severe and characterized by fever, cough, dyspnoea, bilateral pulmonary infiltrates, and acute respiratory injury. Individuals suffering COVID-19 infection and additional smoke emissions are at highest risk.
Social distancing between firefighters in the field, the role of coupled effects of landscape fire emissions on the respiratory system and premature mortality is a key concern.
The following reports from the media, institutions and dedicated projects will be updated continuously.
Moore, P., Hannah, B., de Vries, J., Poortvliet, M., Steffens, R., Stoof, C.R. (2020). Wildland Fire Management under COVID-19. Brief 1, Review of Materials. Wageningen University, The Netherlands. https://doi.org/10.18174/521344.
Online Conferences and Webinars The first Online Discussion “Fire Prevention in the Middle of COVID-19 Pandemic” (Pengendalian Kebakaran Hutan dan Lahan dalam Menghadapi Musim Kemarau ditengah Pandemi COVID-19) was held on 9 May 2020 as an activity of the Regional Fire Management Resource Center – South East Asia (RFMRC-SEA), a regional center of GFMC serving Southeast Asia, in collaboration with the Forest Fire Laboratory of IPB University (Bogor, Indonesia). The discussion among 220 participants from the provinces of Indonesia, Timor Leste and The Netherlands was inspired by three impulse presentations:
The forest fire prevention strategy in the middle of COVID-19 Pandemic (Prof. Bambang Hero Saharjo, head of RFMRC-SEA)
Current and planning activities for fire prevention in the middle of COVID-19 Pandemic (Dr. Israr Albar, Vice Deputy Director for Fire Prevention, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Republic of Indonesia)
GFMC Portal on Vegetation Fire Emissions: https://gfmc.online/vfe/vfe.html (scroll down to “Publications on Impacts of Vegetation Fire Emissions on Health and Safety of Wildland Firefighters and the Public”)