Author(s): Florian Kraxner Andrey Krasovskiy

Dealing with higher fire frequencies in the alpine region

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Dealing with increasing fire frequencies in the domestic mountain-dominated forest systems requires assessment and anticipation of fire risks at local scales as well as a better understanding of its effects on the ecosystem and recreational activities. The Austria Fire Futures project started on 15th September 2022 to address this critical situation.

Global warming causes increased risks of wildfires worldwide, due to raising temperatures and more severe and longer drought periods – this trend of higher fire frequencies affects even relatively humid regions such as the Alps, where higher temperatures in combination with snow-poor winters, lightning activity and more pronounced dry periods favor an increased occurrence of wildfires - that much is certain. And the past fire seasons in Austria have proven how widespread forest fires may occur.

“In Austria, both fire frequency and areas burned have increased in recent years. This points at the need to establish a strong link between national statistics and wildfire research, which should form the basis for national wildfire management and emergency planning,” comments IIASA researcher Andrey Krasovskiy. Krasovskiy is in charge of the fire risk model development in the Austria Fire Futures project, which includes parametrization and optimization of the wildfire climate impacts and adaptation model (FLAM) to capture key fire-related variables for Austria.

Further to the IIASA-AFE research group, three institutes from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (the Institute of Silviculture, Landscape Development, Recreation and Conservation Planning and Meteorology and Climatology) and the Austrian Research Centre for Forests (BfW) are part of the consortium of the Austria Fire Futures project.

The project idea for Austria Fire Futures was born from earlier discussions within the consortium partners about the White Paper for Policy Makers “Forest Fires in the Alps” (Mueller et al. 2020) and how to best address its major fire prevention challenge identified: the urgent need to develop dynamic fire risk maps based on high-resolution hotspots mapping and implement these for Austria into a broadly accessible platform. So far, fire risk maps that include fire hazard (endangered vegetation), fire triggers (human and lightning) and fire vulnerability (e.g., endangered infrastructure, settlements and potential damage) are only available in some regions of the Alps, e.g., in Switzerland. To generate such maps on a local scale, fire hazard modeling is necessary to identify endangered forest types in combination with topographic effects.

“We believe that an innovative and improved fire risk hotspot mapping is the fundament for all further forest- and wildfire prevention and hence needs to be seen as an indispensable tool for an integrated fire management (prevention, suppression, post fire measures) while substantially contributing to mitigating climate change as well as minimizing damage to ecosystems, their services, and people” concludes Florian Kraxner (IIASA) who coordinates the project at IIASA.

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Hazards Wildfire
Country and region Austria
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