The University of Valencia leads FIRElinks, a European program to curb large forest fires

Pinet 2018 fire three days after the fire was extinguished. The flames ravaged mPinet 2018 fire three days after the fire was extinguished. The flames ravaged more than 3,000 hectares in August 2018, in seven municipalities and three counties.

The University of Valencia (UV) leads the FIRElinks project, a 4-year COST action of the European Union, in which 38 countries participate and with a total endowment of one million euros, which aims to investigate how to avoid or mitigate the large fires, which are becoming more and more frequent, which are caused by forest growth and climate change. Artemi Cerdà, professor of Physical Geography at the UV, works in areas affected by fires or that may be, in countries such as Bulgaria, Holland, Turkey, Spain or Germany, to establish work networks with scientific, managerial, political and professional personnel, and also with owners.

Professor Cerdà coordinates a scientific and professional network involved in the investigation of fires whose objective is the exchange of knowledge on the dynamics of fire, the management of the risk of fire, the effects of fire on vegetation, fauna, soil and water, and the socioeconomic, historical, political, perception and geographic impacts of the presence of fire.

"The big fires - those involving more than 500 hectares - are mainly caused by changes in land use. The rural exodus has caused and continues to cause a massive abandonment of agricultural farms, spaces that are filled with forests with little or no management, and that, with climate change as an aggravating factor, are leading to the fires that we are experiencing and that will grow in number and volume in the next few years if we don’t put solutions in place", explains Artemi Cerdà.

The main objective of FIRElinks is, according to the expert, "to promote synergistic collaborations between European research groups and interested parties with the objective of synthesising existing knowledge and experience, and defining a concerted research agenda that promotes an integrated approach to create fire-resistant landscapes". This agenda should take into account biological factors, biochemical and physical limitations, but also socio-economic, historical, geographical, sociological, perception and political ones.

"In other words, let firefighters, administrations, owners, investigators and technicians agree to see what we do and how we do it. The University of Valencia is the manager of this network that works to prevent large fires, something unique in Europe and there are already plans to make it global with a program called Global Fire Partnership", explains Artemi Cerdà.

Avoiding or limiting large fires is a pressing social need due to the greater intensification and propagation. In this sense, within the FIRElinks project, meetings have been held in different European countries, and in August a period of great activity begins with multidisciplinary meetings in Turkey, Germany and Poland. Previous meetings have been held in Holland, Norway, Bulgaria or Spain. Activities will continue throughout 2023 and 2024.

COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology, is an action program that provides funding for research and innovation networks that help connect research initiatives in Europe and beyond, and allow the researchers and innovators make their ideas grow in any field of science and technology by sharing them.

Annex photo captions:

2.- Pinet cork oak forest burned in 2018, seen in mid-March 2019. You can see how the cork oaks are regrowing, while the pine forest recovers by germination.

3.- The Sierra de Espadán, in Fuentes de Ayódar, in a 2021 image. This area suffered a fire in the summer of 1994, which affected about 20,000 hectares in several municipalities.

4.- The Alcalatén fire of 2007 burned more than 5,000 hectares of the Sierra de la Creu. The traditional bench terraces stopped part of the erosion and the loss of fertile soil.