Climate Experts Tackle Forest Fire Threats Under Changing Climate

WORLD METEOROLOGICAL ORGANIZATION-IMMEDIATE PRESS RELEASE

GENEVA/EDMONTON, 14 JULY 2008 (WMO) – An international workshop is being held from 14 to 16 July 2008 in Edmonton (Canada) with the aim of improving operational weather systems for fire danger rating that should help tackle the growing threat of forest fires worldwide.

Over 75 meteorologists, fire scientists, practitioners and managers of wild land fire prevention and mitigation, environmental monitoring organizations and the earth observation community from 25 countries are participating in this event, organized jointly by the World Meteorological Organization, the panel for Global Observation of Forest and Land Cover Dynamics (GOFC-GOLD) and Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Service (CFS).

The participants will review operational and prototype weather-based Fire Danger Rating (FDR) systems from around the globe, including North America, Europe, Russia, Southeast and East Asia, Australasia, Latin America and Africa. A focus will be on weather observations and networks, data management, weather analyses, approaches to defining and evaluating fire danger levels, additional indices of fire danger and smoke forecasting and monitoring (e.g. emissions, dispersion). The purpose is to help develop appropriate strategies to improve operational fire weather systems and their application in fire management.

“Over the years WMO, with partners, has been developing tools to evaluate and predict the effects of weather and climate on fires and their potential. Our target is to produce operational guidelines for fire weather agro-meteorology by 2009”, Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement delivered on his behalf.

CFS Regional Director General, Dr Gordon Miller, said: “Canada is pleased to host the international workshop, particularly given the increasing prevalence of wild land fire around the globe. Several decades ago we recognized the importance of fire danger rating as a cornerstone in Canadian fire management systems, and have since collaborated with many other countries on further enhancements. Our climate change models indicate that wild and fire is going to increase in both frequency and intensity in Canada in the coming years, so from our point of view this collaboration is going to be even more important in the future. The workshop provides an opportunity for this community to take stock of our achievements and identify and agree on future challenges”.

Given a complex of fuels in a wild land environment, the way that a fire develops and burns from an ignition source depends largely on meteorological and climatic factors. Extended periods of low precipitation, low humidity and high temperature produce conditions in which dead vegetation, and to some extent living material, becomes highly flammable. Meteorological data are critical to forecasting the potential for fires to get started and for their behavior once started. A third area of meteorological data needed relates to predicting smoke trajectories and dispersion.

Efforts to develop fire danger rating systems have been driven by a concern about fires burning out of control and endangering human lives and property. As countries have sought to protect public health and safety, wild land and agricultural burning have attracted increasing attention and become the target of regulatory attention. Fire’s influence on and response to the changing global climate and, on a smaller scale, fire’s effects on regional and local air quality have become international issues.

As of July 2008, there were many large fires in the Western United States with several threatening residential areas in the State of California. In the United States, the year-to-date area burned was 118% of the 10-year average with 26% of area burned occurring in California. In Canada, the year-to-date area burned was 83% of the 10-year average with 77% of the area burned occurring in the Province of Saskatchewan.

Note: The World Meteorological Organization( WMO) is the United Nations' authoritative voice on weather, climate and water


For more information please contact:

Ms Carine Richard-Van Maele, Chief, Communications and Public Affairs, WMO. Tel: +41 (0)22 730 83 15. E-mail: cpa@wmo.int Internet website: http://www.wmo.int