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Interview

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Human behaviour is the most difficult aspect to forecast on wildfire prevention

Behind the SILVANUS project: Interview with Lovorko Marić

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We talk to consultant and dissemination manager Lovorko Marić from the European project SILVANUS to understand how climate change is affecting wildfires prevention, response and restoration, which actions are taking place to improve our land resilience and how citizens play a key role in this global responsibility.

What is the SILVANUS project all about

SILVANUS is a major EU-funded project whose main objective is to create an innovative technological platform for wildfire management to try and prevent wildfires, detect them and respond to them in the most efficient possible manner. Also, we want to ensure that biodiversity restoration and wildfire resilience after a potential wildfire is done in the most productive manner. That means we approach three phases: The first one is preparedness and prevention, the second one is detection and response, and the third one is restoration adaptations. The project started in October 2021, and it is now approximately halfway through its development, finalizing in March 2025. We have an international Consortium of 49 partners from 18 countries, which includes not only EU member states but also three international countries: Australia, Indonesia, and Brazil.

SILVANUS is working with different pilot exercises to test this technological platform. How is it approached?

We have 12 pilot sites in 11 countries focused on different phases. For example, the Indonesia pilot is centred on phase three, which deals with biodiversity restoration and adaptation. Other pilots are working on detection and response, this is the case in countries such as Croatia and Slovakia, where we have specific pilot exercises already implemented. There, we have to deal with state-of-the-art technology using all the data that is integrated into the platform, from weather climate models to social media reports to remote sensing and so on. We work on the integration of all these components for an efficient and most productive possible technology deployment in order to detect and respond to wildfires as soon as possible, detecting the cause as well. Besides these two pilot exercises already implemented, we have ten more pilots to go in the first trial period, and each of them has its own specificity based on the phases mentioned before. Moreover, we try to focus on the causes and escalation of potential wildfires in different countries and different geographical locations. For instance, in one pilot site in Portugal, we assess the potential impact on power infrastructure and water supply, not only in that region but in the whole country. There is another one in France centred on a wildfire close to an industrial location and facilities that could cause explosions and further wildfire escalations. In summary, many situations are taken into account related to local communities affected by wildfires and regarding the electricity sector, water supply sector, IT business and so forth.

This summer, wildfires were intense all over the world. Is there a real increase or is it a misperception caused by the media?

This July 2023 was supposedly the hottest month ever recorded. So, even though the number of wildfires might not be the main issue, the critical point could be that climate change and the heat waves we live in are escalating and increasing the length and magnitude of these wildfires. This is one of the main problems we are facing; in the past, weather and climate were potentially more acceptable to our intervention, while nowadays, nature and climate give us fewer and fewer opportunities to have some chance to de-escalate the impact of wildfires.

Honestly, it is difficult to answer the question of whether the number of wildfires is dramatically increasing because there is also the human factor playing a key role. Most of the wildfires in creation are caused by either negligence or arson. Human behaviour is one of the most challenging factors to forecast, that is, creating a model of human behaviour. But what we can assess, in my opinion, is that there is further escalation of wildfires due to intensive droughts and heat waves, very likely caused by intense climate change.

Climate change and the heat waves we live in are escalating and increasing the length and magnitude of wildfires.

Can we prevent these causes?

I'm not sure if I, as an individual, have a response to that, but in terms of human negligence and human factors, you can never get too much education, and this is something that could also be connected with citizen engagement. As far as arson is concerned, this is something that is probably very difficult to predict and prevent. But, again, if we can educate people and motivate them to identify these issues as much as possible, maybe we can take a step forward.

Is there a real-life action to deal with this challenge?

Within the SILVANUS project, we have a citizen engagement program and campaign which tries to include stakeholders and citizens as much as possible in the platform development and evolution process. A lot of that is related to education and about how to behave when we are close to a wildfire and what not to do. In that sense, we are working locally through interactive exhibitions to disseminate the key messages of the project, in addition to an interactive educational campaign and a citizen engagement mobile app that will come soon. Through this app, people can get information about the project and on wildfire prevention, but also, we try to collect as much input from the citizens themselves and the stakeholders about possible wildfire situations and any suspicions that are going on in any of the particular regions. The idea is to have as many stakeholder and citizen outputs to be integrated into our platform. If this in any way can, at least, in a small manner, decrease this human factor and negligence that is causing many of the wildfires today, we'll be happy.

Nowadays, nature and climate give us fewer and fewer oppotunities to have some chance to de-escalate the impact of wildfires.

Regarding the response to wildfires, do you think the firefighters and the governments of the affected countries are prepared?

The point is to incorporate not just national administration but also local administration stakeholders. Within the Consortium, we have State-owned and end-users such as a firefighting association, which are directly connected with the government (for example, in Croatia) and the local administrations. The idea is to recommend this platform to all the stakeholders on an administration level and through a policy framework. We are working on policy recommendations for wildfire prevention and biodiversity restoration, not just on a European but national level, hoping that the European directive and any kind of European legislation development in the future will be implemented on an EU member state level. From our side, we are definitely trying to develop as much cooperation with political and local administration as possible.

In terms of human negligence and human factors, you can never get too much education.

After talking about prevention and response, there is still resilience and restoration to face after a wildfire occurs. How long will it take for the land to recover once the fire has been extinguished?

It depends on the magnitude of the area, on the resilience of the region, on the vegetation, on the soil, and on all kinds of factors that can take years, even decades, depending on the scale of the damage. For example, in the Hawaii wildfire which took place last summer, it remains to be seen how long the magnitude of the disaster will last. What SILVANUS is doing is certainly trying to make the process quicker and more efficient through biodiversity indexing. One of the user products of our platform is Woode, a biodiversity mobile app. It allows us to know what kind of biodiversity pool is there, and that way, we can quicken and make biodiversity restoration more efficient by approaching soil rehabilitation strategies and growth models developed by academic researchers. The goal is to have the best picture of the area because the more familiar the ecological resilience of this area is, the quicker restoration in terms of soil and vegetation.

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Author: Sara Lladó

Author: Sara Lladó

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Junior journalist at Inmedia Solutions

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Inmedia Solutions

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Collaborators

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Lovorko Marić
Lovorko Marić is a consultant specializing in assessing the social and economic impacts of energy and environmental projects. He has extensive experience in th ...

Organization:
SILVANUS

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Mónica Catalán
I am a journalist specialising in the dissemination of European projects. My aim is to bring specific communication to the general public

Organization:
Inmedia Solutions

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SILVANUS

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