We are seeing it, day by day, Spain is burning. A wave of forest fires is ravaging our forests, making us one of the most affected countries in the European Union. What are the causes? Unfortunately, according to figures from Greenpeace, more than 96% of the fires with a known cause in Spain are caused by humans.
We are talking about climate change and the successive summer heat waves that cause water stress in the mountains, multiplying exponentially the probability of fires. But we also talk about urban planning and the uncontrolled building of houses in spaces and areas of high risk and vulnerability to fire, and the poor maintenance of forests and woodlands throughout the year, and not only in the summer season, ignoring preventive and essential tasks such as clearing, periodic cleaning of the forest, firebreaks, forest tracks with water tanks, etc.
All this, without forgetting the innumerable arson attacks, both premeditated and accidental, which account for 60% of the cases.
Fortunately, and although there is still a long way to go, there are more and more technologies committed to this problem, with GIS serving as an example in fire prevention.
What value does a GIS system bring in terms of fire risk?
There is no doubt, the fight against fires has in Geographic Information Systems the ally the planet needs to overcome the climatic emergency we are going through.
Currently, GIS in forest fire management have replaced the static image, which is helping to fight fires more quickly and efficiently. They can predict fire behaviour and estimate fire risk through the analysis of different criteria and parameters, such as the type and state of vegetation, orography and meteorological conditions.
In this way, the different public administrations have sufficient knowledge to determine and implement different measures for prevention, extinction and recovery of areas at risk.
How does a GIS help with the dangers of summer and high temperatures?
With GIS, the rate of fire extinction is much higher, thanks to the values that can be collected. Thus, using this type of GIS software, it is possible to determine the territorial fire risk index, according to the orography of the terrain, the type and state of the vegetation in the area, as well as the orographic index, depending on the slope of the terrain, which will favour the vertical spread of fire to a greater or lesser extent.
And we are also talking about a very important concept when the summer season arrives: the combustibility index. It is through this parameter that this risk can be determined, depending on the water content, the type of tissue, the structure and the distribution of the plant matter in the soil analysed.
GIS Smart Environment software, our ally in the management of forest fires
As we saw before, until a few years ago this analysis was done in pdf or similar format, and although these maps were updated periodically, they continued to offer a static image of the situation.
Now, thanks to the use of GIS software for forest management, it is possible to observe all the operations and measurements in real time, improving the knowledge of the fire and favouring a much more efficient action.
In this way, all the parties involved in extinguishing the fire have better working conditions and can supervise in the same tool the areas that are being extinguished, the location of nearby water resources in the area, the distribution of the different firefighting crews that are collaborating in the extinguishing work, as well as the total evolution of the fire.
Not forgetting the help provided by the inventory of urban and forestry services in the evacuation and analysis of the populations that may be affected by the fire, in order to be able to make the most appropriate decisions, all depending on the time it may take for the flames to arrive and the estimation of the quickest routes to evacuate the affected neighbours.