Natural disasters happen more and more frequently: floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, fires … The Earth emits its alarm signal through these meteorological phenomena and climate change is behind most of them. Precisely, the likelihood of more virulent forest fires happening in Spain due, among other factors, to large periods of drought and increased temperatures, will increase in the coming years as a result of global warming. Fortunately, advances in technology allow us to effectively combat these setbacks of our era through the development of software, drones, the exchange of satellite information or pre-alert systems.
Until October of this year, the number of accidents(including hatchlings and fires) is around 6,387, a figure that continues to be high, although there is a slight downward trend if we look at the historical series of the last decade prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. From 2008 to 2019, the average number of claims has been 11,388 , but the total number of fires has been gradually reduced and considerably since 2012, the worst year of all with 42 large fires (of more than 500 hectares) and almost 219,000 have been razed(an extension equivalent to the province of Vizcaya). Up to the date of this year, the fires have been reduced to 1,681 and only 3 have been classified as large fires (GIF).
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However, the exposure to large fires in Spain will be constant, since, as Ruben Laina, professor of Forestry Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, points out, “climate change is introducing extraordinary phenomena in our climate, such as long droughts in Galicia ” . Despite this, Ruben Laina points out that ” traditional factors are still fundamental in extinguishing a fire, these are: prevention campaigns, early detection, and once the fire has occurred, expect a change in the weather and stop” the fuel “(the biomass) to prevent the fire from going further”. Regarding technology, the professor affirms that ” satellite information is being key in the collection and constant exchange of information (data and images), which is fundamental for the prevention or subsequent analysis of a burned zone ” .
In fact, the effectiveness in the detection and early extinction is one of the advantages of this digitized era thanks to the great flow of information. ” Spain is a benchmark, together with the United States and Australia, in the means and devices to extinguish them. Our climatology is more or less constant since we have data and we have learned to live with this reality “adds Ruben Laina. Even so, and given that the forecasts indicate that we will suffer fewer fires, but more and more devastating, we must look ahead in anticipation of possible actions, whether human ( 90% of fires are caused by the hand of man) or strictly natural How? Through technology as a great ally in the fight against fire.
In recent years, different NGOs and other agencies have developed applications so that, at the touch of the screen, citizens also know how to react to a possible fire. Most of them are available in the main shopping platforms for smartphones and they work collecting information from satellites and weather stations, allow to see in real time the declared fires around the world and issue warning notifications when one occurs near our area thanks to geolocation. This is not a trivial matter, because only last year more than a hundred people lost their lives in the fires in Spain and Portugal as a result of more than half a million hectares that burned, according to the report of The Guardian.
If there is a technological development that has marked a before and after in the prevention and search systems in natural catastrophes those are the drones. These gadgets could become important allies in the fight against forest fires since, by remote control, they can fly over large inaccessible areas and offer information in real time on the affected area.
One of the prototypes that are already designed is the Hopper Dron, an apparatus that has been created to act in conjunction with the means of aerial extinction. This model incorporates thermal and geolocation sensors to determine the exact point at which it must act to extinguish the fire and is capable of fogging up to 300 liters of water. To date, for Ruben Laina the scope of application of drones, in case of fire, could “contribute to increase the surveillance capacity in depopulated areas and help to give the first warning signals” .
The development of robots to fight the fire can be a good army in the indirect fight against fires. To the extent that ” climate change is lengthening the season of forest fire risk, for at least two more months, along with the greater biomass due to the abandonment of large rural areas and poor maintenance of the forests, the brush cutters can be a good tool for prevention, “says Ruben Laina of the UPM. Thanks to these terrestrial robots, it is possible to access areas of difficult access for human resources and carry out maneuvers to support traditional terrestrial works.
This is the case of the Dragster brushcutter, a vegetation cleaning robot that eliminates the main fuel of any fire: biomass. Its design, small enough to move through steep terrain and its weight, easily airborne, make it especially attractive since its work “improves the fire prevention phase by creating firebreaks by eliminating all biomass”, points out the professor of the UPM.
From different institutions, we work tirelessly in the development of systems capable of detecting any kind of fire and offering real-time data to create pre-alerts in the face of a real threat. The Directorate General Civil Protection and Emergencies of the Ministry of the Interior offer daily fire risk information thanks to the data handled by ICT, satellites and weather stations.
Likewise, other institutions such as the Center for Research in Software Technologies and Multimedia Systems for Sustainability (CITSEM), of the Polytechnic University of Madrid, have developed the Forest Fire Detection Index algorithm. This technology allows the detection of smoke, from a color treatment system that isolates the smoke from the rest of the scene, locates the focus and determines factors such as the area of influence or direction of the wind, with a high level of precision and in real time. In the same line works the Pyro sat system, developed by the Polytechnic University of Valencia since it uses data from satellites and weather stations to predict fires.
Likewise, large multinationals, such as Indra, have launched their Faedo system in the Sierra de Retin in Cadiz, a reliable and effective fire fighting technology. Faedo is an automatic camera system, with a range of 20 km, whose sensors can detect foci of fire thanks to its thermal meter and smoke detector. It also has a 3D recreation system of the exact location of the fire and, based on the data collected in real time, develops a plan for its correct extinction. With them, Faedo is able to create access maps to the affected area, warns of nearby water sources or populations at risk. In addition, it can anticipate the evolution of fire thanks to meteorological parameters and, once extinguished, determine the causes that caused it.
However, despite the great technological evolution, it is worth remembering that “forest fires are a phenomenon that we have to live with”, as Ruben Laina states, so in addition to leaning on technology, “we must insist on reeducation in the use of the territory and in the management of natural areas and mountains ” . Through awareness campaigns, continuous cleaning work and a review of agricultural and livestock activities we can continue to keep our green lungs alive, at least, for longer.