World leader in Fire Behaviour shares knowledge

4 Nov, 2016Working on Fire

Working on Fire (WOF) hosted in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga on 27 October 2016, Professor Domingos Xavier Viegas, a globally renowned specialist in Wildland fire behavior from the University of Coimbra in Portugal.

Professor Viegas was in the country to present a series of lectures on wildland firefighting and prevention and also to assess Working on Fire’s procedures and state of knowledge concerning guidelines for firefighting teams particularly involved in dangerous field operations.

In his presentation to Working on Fire titled: “Application of Technology to Wildland Fire Management,” he focused on the necessity to have a good understanding of fire behavior to safely perform fire suppression activities.

He expressed the view that while fire suppression is performed by well trained and equipped personnel, they often have to extinguish fire under social pressure, while in the process disregarding their own safety.

In this regard, Professor Viegas lauded work done by WOF firefighters and said, “I have looked into WOF’s fire suppression methods and I am quite impressed by the fact that your firefighters are very meticulous when suppressing fires.”

“Fire management actions are greatly dependent on fire spread and fire behavior and of particular relevance are those forms of fire behavior that can be more destructive to the environment or harmful to human life referred to as “Extreme Fire Behavior” (EFB).  EFB is the set of forest fire spread characteristics and properties that preclude the possibility of controlling it safely using available present day technical resources and knowledge”, Professor Viegas said.

He further added that in contrast where fires burning vegetation where the fuel is not too dry, the terrain is not steep and the wind is not strong, the rate of spread is relatively low and constant and the flame height and fire intensity are not very high which he referred to as “Normal Fire Behavior” (NFB).

In a staged fire at the Barberton fire base, where he was joined by Dr Winston & Lynne Trollope (Scientific Advisors to WOF), Professor Viegas’ assessed and evaluated Working on Fire’s recommendations and procedures for applying prescribed burns as a land management practice to achieve ecological objectives like controlling bush encroachment.

Professor Viegas said, “We must note that fire suppression using currently available procedures and technology (hand tools, fire tracks and aircraft) is not effective when the fire line intensity exceeds 10MW/m (10000 kJ/s/m). We must also be aware of the danger of Eruptive Fires developing in canyons which are highly deceptive in their initial stages as small slow moving fire fronts but which can suddenly in a very short time develop into high intensity fires with life threatening consequences”.

He also stressed the importance and necessity for firefighters to have a thorough knowledge of fire behavior as a means of ensuring their personal safety during firefighting operations.

Working on Fire Managing Director, Llewellyn Pillay, thanked Professor Viegas for being willing to share his insight and knowledge about fire behavior and how it can be effectively applied by WOF.

“I have no doubt that these series of engagements with the professor will greatly enhance our own wildland firefighting and prevention capabilities and also how we can more apply prescribed burns as part of our integrated fire management plans”, Pillay said.