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Predicting forest fires

The WSL has worked out a forest fire management strategy together with the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). It has developed an early warning system called Fireless2 which measures soil humidity on sample plots and provide highly accurate information about the local fire risk. In addition, the nationwide forest fire database, Swissfire, offers the basis for the development of prediction methods, along with forest fire risk maps.

humus sentry
Fireless2 Sensors determine temperature and humidity of the litter and humidity of the humus.
Gateway für die Datenübermittlung
Fireless2  Gateway: Gathers the sensor signals and transmits them to the control center by means of cell phone network.

Fireless2: Early warning with the help of direct soil moisture measurement

WSL, in conjunction with EnvEve SA, a company located in Ticino, has developed a wireless measurement method for early warning of forest fires. The measuring system, Fireless2, constantly records moisture in the forest soil and thus indirectly the flammability of combustible material. Fire managers can use it to assess the present risk of fire in real time. Fireless2 can more accurately evaluate the potential of a forest fire; tailored to the location and type of forest. This system is an ideal addition to current standard fire weather indices based on meteorological factors that render large-scale forest fire risks. Fireless2 displayed excellent test results in Ticino. The FOEN is presently planning to test stations north of the Alps.

Climate change affects fire hazard

Dealing with changes in the climate and in land use represents a challenge in predicting forest fires. Several studies deal with the changes in fire regimes, i.e. intensity, seasonality and frequency of forest fires. For future forest fire management, the factors leading to larger or more frequent fires must be determined. In this way, mid-term forest fire risk assessment for various areas can be established with sufficient accuracy.

In order to improve the prediction of future fire scenarios, meteorological data about precipitation, temperature and wind are estimated for selected regions and compared with the meteorological conditions that prevailed during past fires, and which are available in the Swissfire database. The knowledge about higher risk of forest fires in turn serve as a basis for targeted training of firefighters and planning of presuppression infrastructures such as fire hydrant networks or water points for firefighting helicopters.

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