Wildfires: what can YOU do? Citizen science spotlight

Last week, a warning of a heightened risk from wildfire spreading in Sweden was issued. The alert made me think about public involvement in wildfire management and the benefits of technology. Citizens with the help of technology can either inform the authorities about fire events or nominate assets in their local environment that are important to them and are not well prepared for a fire. Also, individuals can also help monitor changes in a forest area that was once affected by a fire. Here are several examples of what people can do before a fire starts, during and after a forest fire event. 

Identify assets 

First, people should be involved in fire risk assessment consultation processes. I’d like to mention an interesting case from South Australia that experiences bushfires every fire season. The Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources on behalf of the South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS) encourages people to share what they think are the most important environmental assets in their local environment. It can be a plant or animal species, a vineyard or farm ruins, even an important tree. The nominated objects will be assessed to determine the risk that bushfire may pose to the asset. Then the CFS, through Bushfire Management Planning, where possible, will identify preventative action(s) for the environmental asset protection. Here is a screenshot of the map created by Kangaroo Island Bushfire Management Committee

Report fires

Second, individuals can report fires and map them. My next example case refers to detailed description and localization of forest fires. The information portal Waldbrand-Datenbank Österreich [Forest fire database Austria] has been active since 2008 and allows those interested to use an interactive map to query forest fire events in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland and create statistics or graphics. In addition, it is also possible to report forest fire events. Metadata on the cause of the fire, location, area size, affected tree species, involved fire brigades and others are recorded continuously in a database. The Location is interactive on the web GIS map, additional information such as cause, duration and fire area can be entered and photos/videos are uploaded to the fire incident.

Monitor changes

Photo by @BLetize (Twitter)

Finally, people can observe and report the environmental changes caused by fires. The projects of Nerds for Nature, which are not active anymore, unfortunately, according to the website, turned visitors of the city and national parks in the USA into a remote sensor network. For example, in one project the volunteers were trying to monitor habitat change after the Rim Fire had burned more than 400 square miles in and around Yosemite National Park in 2013. The burnt landscape can appear alarming and vegetation can be severely damaged, and, of course, one can ask, “How quickly will the affected area recover? What species were affected?” etc. That’s what was the project about. The recovery of the area in the aftermath of wildfires was documented in pictures taken by individuals from fixed locations. Those walking or hiking through fire impacted area could stop and take a picture and upload it to social media so others could observe the re-growth patterns and learn about the organic regeneration.

I give only three examples of what individuals can do before, during and after a forest fire event. There are more interesting cases, and I would also like to learn more about similar initiatives in Sweden and around the globe. Please let me know if you are aware of any.

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