Welcome to our new website!
Sept. 8, 2021

017 - Pyrolife - from fire resistance to fire resilience with Cathelijne Stoof

017 - Pyrolife - from fire resistance to fire resilience with Cathelijne Stoof

When you think about battling wildfires, what is the image you see in front of your eyes? Probably an air tanker (at least that was what I saw...). After this interview, your optics will change about 180 degrees. Dr Cathelijne Stoof explained to me why strategies focused ultimately on fire resistance and suppression are deemed to fail, and why we need to learn to manage the risks in our forests. Through a combination of landscape management, efficient ground firefighting, aerial support and social campaigns we can achieve safety from the threat, that seems more imminent than ever before.

But the discussion is not only about the politics and tactics. It is also about diversity, human aspect of fire science and social constructs that highly impact the fire risks. It is about a fascinating journey, for which dr Stoof has taken 15 (sic!) PhD students scattered all over the world, trained in over two dozen scientific units, who will be the foundation for the new generation of interdisciplinary fire experts.

PyroLife as a project has some ambitious goals and sets a new benchmark on career management, interdisciplinary research and research communication. It is focused on moving the paradigm from fire resistance to fire resilience, through risk quantification, management and communication. This part of project description summarizes it the best: 

"PyroLife is built upon four axes of diversity: interdisciplinarity, intersectorality, geography, and gender.  Its unique integrated training program provides 15 early stage researchers the in-depth, interdisciplinary, integrated and transferable knowledge and skills required to successfully complete their research projects and maximize their future employability. In a field that is still male-dominated, PyroLife is characterized by strong female participation not just as a gender equity goal but as a strategy to stimulate creativity and changing the way that fire is approached, moving from fire resistance to landscape resilience, and fostering community resilience with participatory approaches."

Please learn more about the Pyrolife ITN project at:
PyroLife project website

and connect at: 

Some supplementary items to our discussion can be found at:




Transcript
Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Hello, and welcome to Fire Science Show session 17 .Today I have for you another great topic. And this time on wildfire science, we are gonna discuss some outstanding ideas about how to deal and manage the wildfires. We're going to discuss one outstanding PhD project within Maria Skodowska-Curie ITN action. And we will discuss it with an outstanding, , woman leader in fire science, Dr. Cathelijne Stoof from Waggenigen University.The project in question is PyroLife; learning to live with fire, and it's a multidisciplinary project with a short aim to turn the paradigm in wildfire from fire resistance to fire resilience. It's quite an ambitious goal, but it seems that the project is on a good way to actually deal with that. The project is training 15 bright, people who are going to get their PhDs in topics ranging from Pyro geography, managing landscapes, , fundamental combustion simulations, modeling, to communication and spreading the knowledge . So it's a huge multidisciplinary endeavor created together by 10 leading, institutions from seven countries. That's led by Waggenigen University, Dr. Cathelijne Stoof, which I've mentioned, and she's my today's guest. And I'm also very proud that ITB is also a small participant of this project. And we're going to host one of the PhD students in her secondment at ITB next year. Very looking forward. Anyway today, you're going to learn a lot about managing fires. Why the current paradigm of fire suppression fire resistance is maybe not the answer that we need to manage the modern challenges related to wildfires and how by improving our knowledge, but also by improving our risk communication, we can create a safer world. So without further ado lets spin the intro and jump into the episode. Hello everybody. Today. I'm here with Cathelijne Stoof dr. Firelady. Nice to have you here today Cathelijne.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Thanks for having me

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Yeah, Cathelijne is, a scientist just a lot of things on our earth, soil, water, and now fire. And she's the leader of a very exciting project called Pyrolife, which is an ITN Marie Curie What is it? 14 PhD students, 15 phD students. That's amazing. There's a whole new generation of PhD students in fire science, which we're going to discuss in a very depth in here, but first Fire lady, what made you pursue this goal of Pyro life? This multidisciplinary approach to learning how to live with fire

Cathelijne Stoof:

Yeah. So I really love, I'm really interested in connections between fields and between people. And basically the idea for Pyro life. The very seed of that was during my PhD. I was doing my PhD in the Netherlands but field work in Portugal. And I was working with the Portuguese firefighters and fire lighters. So the people doing the prescribed burns and I joined them into the field and I was measuring soil temperatures during their fires and talking to them about the challenges they had. And another thing I did was my field work area was across the valley from a very small village. And every time I drove through the village, I stopped to chat with the people in the beginning and my very poor Portuguese. And I learned Portuguese on the way. And so I was having these discussions with the with both the villagers were very knowledgeable and with the stakeholders in the field were also incredibly knowledgeable and they were teaching me about the landscape. They were teaching me about fire. At the same time I was learning about fire. I saw that in my own country, in the Netherlands, we were having fires that I was not aware of. and I also saw that the way that we dealt with fire is very different from how the Portuguese deal with fire and that the knowledge of landscape fires in a country like the Netherlands is could be much improved.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Okay.

Cathelijne Stoof:

At the same time in the Netherlands, of course we're experts at living with water. I had a lot of conversations with a lot of different people. And for instance, from the Catalan forestry center. CTFC he mentioned like Cathejlina the way , you work with water, but especially , that bottom up approach that you involve the people on the ground, the villagers who live in a flood plain the stakeholder participation that is really new. And we don't do that with fire. So it was those conversations with these various people and the comparison between the Netherlands in Portugal that gave me the ideas of, okay, if we work together across disciplines, across countries, across fields in between academia and practice, I was convinced that we could tackle some really challenging things.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Wow. That's a brilliant approach , to walk down, gather knowledge , from people who are dealing with fires , for ages and , this and that at the same time, these are the people you have to convince how to deal with fire, because if you fail to educate people living at the wildland urban interface, for example, no matter how many air tankers are going to buy, it's not gonna solve the fire issue.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Absolutely. So like we in the Netherlands live with water and we looked at, we have programs in which we looked at. Okay. Where can we allow places to flood and where do we need to protect? Places where people live, where there is very important infrastructure. And the analogy I always use in my science communications is that we don't deal with floods by every time mopping up. And, and yeah, really mopping up. We do with floods by managing the landscape by creating a landscape. That is such that we are aware of the risks and we planned the risks where we do tolerate them and where we don't tolerate them. And that is also, you can't always stop floods and you can't always stop fires and it's not desirable to always stop fires. So that's the idea with we need to go from fire, focus on fire suppression, also financially to the focus on living with fire. So it's allowing fire at the times. Where we can control it, at the places where we want to have it. And it's , to stop the fires that happen at places where the people are most vulnerable and at the times where the people and the values are most vulnerable.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Okay. Let's pop an advertisement in here. If you like what you're hearing, there's an open position in the project for a PhD student, Cathelijne, which work packages is that?

Cathelijne Stoof:

Oh, it's work package two, but that's, that's just administration. It's a position on how to create fire resilient landscapes. So it's to look at, um, what kind of landscape structures are vulnerable to fires and what kind of landscape structures are less vulnerable to fire. So we're using historical fire patterns, but also with fire behavior modeling, it's basically an, and a lot of GIS analysis and remote sensing analysis. Just look at how can you create landscapes that then landscape designers can use these base rules to then design those landscapes.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

That sounds like a really exciting PhD opportunity. I would take it one. I hope someone's listening would like to join this magnificent project and all of us doing this. So let's move back to the project. In the project description, it is said that we need to change the fire management paradigm from resistance to resilience. Yeah. So, where would you start? Like does resistance fail or how is our current approach failing us in this? Because if we succeeded, we wouldn't see the horrible fire stories in the media that we see every summer.

Cathelijne Stoof:

I literally get the shivers now. And so when I see these images of burnt out cars, but also, what we saw this summer as well the images on social media, the videos of these raging fires coming down the hill slope and approaching the people on the beaches. I have the shivers across my entire body right now. We need to manage the landscape. We need to create landscapes in which we accept the risks that are there, but we know that we have reduced the risks, such that we can live with that. We need to manage the fuel. Of course we need to absolutely combat climate change so that these really prolonged heat waves, we know that they will occur more in the future. So we need to come back to climate change, but in addition to that, we need to manage the landscape so that even if we have these really prolonged heatwaves or dry periods in spring, when these fires occur they are slower and the flames are shorter. And so the fires spread less rapidly. We also need to inform the people and we need to work on awareness of the people for fires and for changing fire regimes. It's a multiple fronts. We need residents to make their homes firewise. We need to have programs in which people are encouraged to, to make their homes firewise. So to manage a few around homes, we need to manage the few in in more rural areas. We need to have policies for that as well. I mean, at the moment in the Netherlands there, it's not mandatory to to consider fire risk in the management plans of neighborhoods or nature areas. And also when one group that is very vulnerable and you see that every summer, Is tourists because you go to a country where you don't speak the language, you don't know the way out, you don't know the communication channels. You don't have your regular preparedness and it's you go to a place where you're not aware of the risks. So when they're, like I said, you need, we need to work on multiple fronts to both create a landscape in which we can handle the fires that we have and that we will have, and that the people can live with that.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

So the current paradigm of resistance where you would focus on one, creating, let's say a bunch of fire, safe structures, and to respond to fires with like active firefighting, whenever a fire occurs this approach, which seems like, for me, it seems reasonable, right? you make your structures fire safe. Okay. They're safe. You make firefighters go and extinguish the fire where the fire goes up. It seems safe when there's a high fire season, you send more firefighters. Maybe you build lookout towers buy a plane with a huge water tank inside and then

Cathelijne Stoof:

toys. Yeah.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

And then so yeah, that's no issue there. it seems to work, but.

Cathelijne Stoof:

And that's also what in the media. So in the media, you see a lot of attention for how many airplanes there are, how many helicopters and very few media reports on how many people there are actually on the ground, but we know that aerial fire suppression alone cannot stop fires. You need to have those ground crews, and it's just aerial support. The airplanes can not fly when it's too windy when it's too hot, when there's too much smoke. So there, there are a lot of conditions in which you can't even use them. And and also you need to have those crews on the ground to, to really extinguish those fires. I think that the best example of the fact that fire suppression alone does not work is that there was a decades long policy in us that every fire needed to be out by 10:00 AM. The next morning

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

okay

Cathelijne Stoof:

Yes. Every fire was stopped, but fire is a natural process and fire cleans the landscape. And if you allow fire to burn frequently, you have calm fire with short flames and flames that stay on the ground because it's only the fuels. Yeah. The shrubs in the grass that get burned. But if you only have a fire, once every 30 or 50 years those bushes will be touching the bottom of the trees or maybe even higher than that. So fires that start on the ground, they can then very easily spread to the tops and then you can't stop them anymore. So stopping fire means that you don't clean that landscape. That means that the landscape accumulates. More plants, which is the fuel for a landscape fire and the more fuel the less controllable the fires will be. And then what we're also seeing is that fires are changing fires are becoming more extreme, so fires are actually creating their own weather and we expect that will happen more in the future. So with those more extreme fires, it's even more important to allow the good fire and actually a toolbox of various landscape management practices to manage the landscape to make sure that if there is a fire, it burns in the way that we wanted.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Yeah, how I understand that is that if we go too far with the, this suppression paradigm, we're basically extinguishing everything up to a moment where the fire is so big. We can only sit back and watch

Cathelijne Stoof:

Yes. Or scream or flee or perish. People may think that we can stop fire and yes, you may stop fire in the short run, but in the long run you're basically creating a really big problem for our children or our children's children.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

So if we hypothetically could put out the size of the fires we see today, like if we had the, let's say unlimited amount of tankers and firefighters on the ground and we could push them, put them out, eventually we would end up with a bigger fire that would still exceed the capabilities and that would be horribly devastating. Right? It's a strategy. In essence is built to fail.

Cathelijne Stoof:

The predominant focus on suppression is indeed ultimately doomed to fail. And it's a very complex situation because it's easy to say, we need to manage the fuel. We need to allow more fire in the landscape. But we also need to , but when you look at, for instance, Southern Europe, we had a major migration of people from the countryside to the cities and in the last century. And so the people in the countryside, they used to that lived there that did the farming, that small village in Portugal, where I started my firework, There were only old people living there. And many of the old farm plots were overgrown. And so we need to get people back into the landscape. And, and the way to do that is to get the young people back into the landscape and the landscape needs to be managed. But how do you bring young people into the landscape? would you like to live in a rural area without internet?

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Oh, the second part makes it quite tough, right?

Cathelijne Stoof:

There you go. What'd you live in a rural area. If there are no schools for your kids to go to,

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Absolutely not.

Cathelijne Stoof:

there you go. And so we need internet. We need good internet. We need schools, we need good services when you good roads. And so in order to manage those fuels, we need to come up with creative ways to get people back into the landscape and what would really help if the news media and also politicians. but I think especially the journalist, if they would focus in their reporting on what was done in terms of landscape management and in terms of preparedness of the people, instead of are there enough air tankers, because if you always focus on the air tankers, , then that is what people think we need to stop these fires. But we need to do that by allowing the good fires to burn.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Yeah, you've used the term, the good fires for the second or third time now. And Sarah McAllister also used that and I see that popping a lot in the internet. And I think it's a nice thing to show the narrative that a fire is not only this devastating force or maybe it is a devastating force, but we can put it, on the job to clean out the path to prevent a bigger fire that's what waiting behind the corner. So how is the good fire produced or when does a good fire happen? You had the paper on the prescribed burns in, in Mediterranean. So that, and that's probably the thing I should link in the show notes.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Yeah. A good fire can it depends on where you are and what the conditions are. So a good fire is for instance, a fire that happens when the soil is wet. In an ecosystem where the plants that there are or adapted to the fire. So they'd regenerate after the fire and because the soil's wet, the heat doesn't go into the soil, so it doesn't kill the seeds and it doesn't kill the roots and it doesn't consume organic matter in the soil. And that's the stuff that makes the soil black, and that gives the soil nutrients and water, or makes it as soil retain water. You can have that in the spring, for instance, just after the winter, the wet winter period. Um, you can have that in a controlled fire. So it prescribed fire that you do intentionally, but also if you have wildfires in when the soil is wet and that burns in a way that is that belongs in that ecosystem of fire can be good. A fire can be bad if it goes much more intense, then that ecosystem, can handle, or if it, burns close to a place close to where the people are. And if it burns in a way that it's faster than what people can control. So a good fire for the ecosystem can still be bad for the people. If it, if it threatens important values or, uh, roads or groundwater resources or surface water resources.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

But, there is seasonality in that, and there is weather adjustment in that. So you would not plan prescribed fires if you're about to hit the biggest heat wave in ages?.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Probably not, but in Australia, for instance there are seeds in the ground that need fire to regenerate and some seeds also need smoke to regenerate. So in those conditions fires may also be done in when the soils are dryer or when the environment is dryer, because they want to attain that objective of restarting those seeds. So that's, so it's important to understand the ecosystem that you're burning in to know what time of year, and especially because their seasons are changing now with climate change, but in what conditions and what climate conditions and fuel conditions, you can do a good fire or that you can let the wildfire burn because you're like, okay, it would be good if this if this continues and then we stop it over there because it's burning in a way that actually it's beneficial and you clean the landscape in that way. So that's also where to differences between landscape fires and urban fires. Um, but you're an urban fire experts, so please correct me if you see this differently. But I would, I get the impression that from an urban fire perspective, all fire is bad, but from a landscape fire perspective, a fire can actually be really useful.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

yeah. In our perspective, the fire is like threat. It's like an earthquake or a hurricane it's just external action that affects your people in the building and the people in it with the difference that the fire will happen. And that's how we, try to manage that in the built environment world. You assume that the fire will happen in your building and just make it prepared for that fire. And you also assume that there will be a fire of a specific size that it'd be the design fire sized in megawatts. You say, okay, this is an office. Office will be more five megawatts, or you designed that for certain exposure conditions like the damned ISO standard time temperature curve, which says that located will the temperature at your surface of your structural elements will be this, of course, it's, it can go deeper. You can do it better but here you're just doing a better job on either quantifying the possible threat and designing your building to survive that, or maybe in a way limiting the probability of the fire, but still the fire will cure and just deal with it.

Cathelijne Stoof:

And you're saying it's an extreme threat and in a landscape it's not necessarily extreme. It's just, it can become extreme if we always stop it.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Okay.

Cathelijne Stoof:

In a building, in a house, you don't say let's burn the kitchen every now and then, so that house, so the house doesn't burn down. Um, but in the landscape we do say no, let's burn the shrubs every now and then so the whole forest doesn't.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I also see, you mentioned, um, the population of the, villages or the countryside. You've asked me if I was willing to go there and yeah, if the infrastructure was there, it probably would be worth it. I mean, they're said there is a trend to go countryside right.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Especially now with the pandemic, that teleworking is much more common. It will become more attractive. Yeah. If there's internet.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

The process makes that let's say the countryside lose their, indigenous inhabitants who knew how to deal the fire and they learn you how to deal with that in Portugal. And you populated with the city rats like me, who, who would think we need to get more money for an air tanker for our village to protect us.

Cathelijne Stoof:

That's the challenge you already see now , this also happens in California and in Australia as well. We see people from the city moving into the countryside that did not grow up with fire. With time we will lose in the countryside. We will lose the knowledge that traditional fire knowledge. So if we don't collect those lessons and then share them with younger generations, that knowledge will be lost. So you're absolutely right. Like we, we don't get there by just moving city people into the countryside. We also need to make sure that those new people involved in the landscape. And, that lessons about living with fire are shared with these newcomers. The lessons that have been learned over generations are kept and kept on being applied. Because you saw in Greece, I mean, in Greece, they didn't have enough air tankers to, fight all the fires with an urban fire, you don't have a fire in, all the main cities, for instance, in a country. That can happen, but then it's very intentional probably. But in terms of a landscape fire if it's dry and windy here just in a natural park north of us, it's also dry and windy in the Southern part of the country. It's also dry and windy in, in the Eastern part. And so landscape fire is something. Is there a risk that you can have multiple fires at the same time on the same day. So we cannot rely on the fire service to, to always come and save us.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

In built environment, it's also in a way, a product of how we define the regulations and the law. In Poland, for example, many parts of the regulation, the building code are related to what actually the firefighters can manage. I, uh, one good example is the size of a fire compartment you can have. And that's directly related to the ability of the fire brigade to, to have enough people, water, and equipment to contain the fire of the size. So you're not truly allowed to build a 1 million square meter building, even if you liked, because if this burning buildings on fire, it will be impossible to manage the fire. So you either have to build up additional safety features in the building, or you're not allowed to build it.

Cathelijne Stoof:

And we don't have a building code for nature areas, at least in, in these countries, like the Netherlands where fires are relative to the new risk, we don't have those building codes for the landscape and we need to have those.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Yeah, that's right. And even if, how to quantify, what are the capabilities of your fire brigade, as you said, the threat may come and at multiple locations. So, if a fire is able to, I don't know, control a hundred hectare fire, does this mean they can handle two 50 hectare fires? No, not really because it's a completely different animal due to battle on multiple fronts.

Cathelijne Stoof:

I really like this discussion that we're having about the parallels and the differences between urban fires and landscape fires, because that is also so in the Netherlands our landscape fires are being handled by the fire service that mostly does urban fires. So, and you see that across more temperate regions that we don't have a dedicated fire service for the landscape fires. So landscape fires are being managed or actually fought from an urban fire perspective. And again, you have in the media also about the fires in the Mediterranean, it's always about our air tankers. So you see a lot of newly, relatively new weekly fire prone countries thinking we need to buy air tankers and put once again, we need to manage the landscape and we need to teach the fire service, how to manage the fire from the ground.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I mean, obviously for you it's a horrible question. But if I ask the listener to imagine a scene from a wildfire, the first thing that comes to your eyes, when you close your eyes, right? The thing that popped into your mind is it's probablyan air tanker of dropping water on the forest. Yeah, because that's the, that is the media image that is engraved in our minds.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Yeah. I would love, I would love to have a Lego set of fire lighters. So, prescribed fire. Person couldn't actually conducting the fire. And I would actually love to challenge Lego to develop a Lego set that is about putting good fire on the ground. And you mentioned it's the it's the vision. It's a standard vision that people have is this helicopter or airplane dumping water. And it's even so strong that fit that vision, that there was a report from European commission about land-based fire prevention and the communication departments of the European commission put on the front of that prevention report. They put a helicopter dumping water. That's not prevention. So it's so ingrained in people's mindsets. And so we need to w we need to change that narrative and we need to change that image of That we need to have aerial fire suppression. I was commissioned to do an investigation into a large fire that we had here in the Netherlands, uh, last year in a and any interviews with fire service and line managers and all the different stakeholders that were involved in a fire. I also looked at parallels between urban firefighting and landscape firefighting. And we can really learn a lot from I think that the best way to, to train. people in newly fire prone countries to, to live with landscape fires is to look at parallels of things they know. So in terms of the fire service in the Netherlands, there's a instruction for urban fires that when you arrive at the fire, you assessed the thing and you consider, is it safe to go into the building or not? If it's not safe to go in you, you fight the fire from outside the building. And in that fire in a you saw there were people wanted to approach the flames. They wanted to go directly to the flames, which caused a very challenging and very risky situations. That international colleagues, when they reviewed my report, they were shocked when they read that they were like, Ooh, that's, that's, that's very dangerous. At the same time, these fire fighters also indicated it felt like they were doing nothing when they were waiting the fire to approach them on the sides of the nature area. And the important thing is then to teach that to train them, that doing not waiting is not consciously waiting is not doing nothing. It's a conscious approach to an, to safely manage the fire because you don't put people in a building that is not safe to go into during a fire. And it's important that we don't do that either with landscape.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I've done my masters in fire safety engineering in Poland where we share the same course with the fire officers. So we are exposed to many, let's say subjects or topics or trainings that are meant for fire offices. And we had this subject of, for fire forest, fire management, stuff like that. What it did focus on, I was, not necessarily the fuel management, as you mentioned to control the landscape and everything, it focused on building a streaks within the forest, like you have a road that goes to a forest, you have to control the fuel, like 30 meters left, 30 meters, right. That was the goal or this strips and along the train road strips when the fire meets urban areas like there, that was the places that we were taught to manage the fuel, to cut the shrubs, to clean the soil to maintain that the roads are passable and when we entered the the tactics, it usually focused on how to secure this these areas we've created with management, you know, to make sure that the fire doesn't jump from one sector to another. So I think it's maybe not the perfect way, but already something and an improvement over just jumping into the middle of a fire and chase it with a shovel

Cathelijne Stoof:

That corridor approach I also see that used here in the Netherlands, but when you have a fire service that, is used to using big trucks to drive into the area you cannot do that in all the landscapes. And this particular fire was in a peat bog, and peat is very soggy. So, there was a lot of discussion about whether there were sufficient roads for the fire service to go into the area. But even if there had been more roads, there were more of those corridors, then you still cannot put trucks in there all the time, driving back and forth because those roads will not, would not have enough bearing capacity for those big trucks. So in, in country, Like the Netherlands, where fire is being managed from an urban fire perspective, we need to make the shift to to other techniques, to getting used to the, waiting for the fire, to approach the sides of the nature area. It's to look at the weather forecast and identify also in, in time, what the times are that the fire will most likely be able to be suppressed. It's using ground approaches. So walking in or walking into the area only when it's safe but also making very small firebreaks with hand crews instead of using the big fire trucks to put water everywhere, we don't necessarily need water to stop fires, but we do need dedicated training. So that. People can practice. I can learn about these methods and practice with these methods so they can apply them safely. And that's the change we need. When we, then we started talking about PyroLife. And now we're talking about fire suppression in newly fire prone countries. The reason why there's a link is so we use a fire knowledge from Mediterranean areas and we applied that to, to Northwestern Europe at the same time. It's about using knowledge from different disciplines. So in this case, we talk about using knowledge from urban fires and making a parallel with landscape fires. In parallel, we also use knowledge from water management and stakeholder participation. We use that and apply that to fire. So that's it's about these cross disciplinary approaches. This is about learning from different disciplines and different people. That is the parallel between these things and the motivation behind PyroLife is we need to deal with the challenge of changing fire regimes. And we need to move from resisting fire, to living with fire. And if we want to do that, we need to have experts who are not just good in their own field, but also people that are interested and able too communicate with people from other fields. So we can have disciplinary experts that also know a little bit about other fields. So, all those people together, in our case, all those 15 PhD candidates together can sit together and jointly move forward with this with ways how to promote living with fire.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I think as much more than just 15

Cathelijne Stoof:

Oh, yes.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

it's a huge, huge group of people involved. Behind every student there's like three or four people who participate in the project and it's probably a hundred people community now where, which is booming. It's creating a lot of useful outcomes, because you're doing webinars and there are papers in writing. There will be more papers towards the end, the project you're doing communications.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Courses or organizing PhD courses as

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Yeah. Fantastic. And in the description, you also used a sentence to transfer the knowledge from south to north. And I guess that's what you meant about the new fire-prone countries. You've also reflected that many of these solutions problems were invented in the same Mediterranean region, which is historically more prone to fire or had to deal with fire for longer time. But not long ago, we had this horrible fires in Sweden and that's not very far south. And to be honest. How do you want to learn the, in the Northern countries? I don't know if you'd consider yourself north enough to be a Northern country. Let's say the middle

Cathelijne Stoof:

us Northwest or so.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Northwest So how to get how to transfer the best things from south to north and do the people in north want them?

Cathelijne Stoof:

Oh, that's a nice question. So the first part of your question, how to translate that knowledge is through the collaborations that we have. We use insights about fire, about fire science. And we look at the fire regime in Northwestern, Europe. We look at the perception of fire risk. We look at policies and so there's both an environmental science, engineering and in social science where we're making these parallels. so it's one of the things is that investigating the current situation and those studies that come out they, for instance, promote or propose things to consider in, in creating policies or they create better understanding of fire behavior that we have, or about the impacts on, on the soils, in the water in terms of whether people in the north want them. There is still only a small part of people that realize that we have fires. And of course when there's a a bigger fire, people see it in the media, but few people will know that in 2018, for instance, we had 949 fires in The Netherlands. And it's also because when you look at the FSA satellites, you only see three fires for 2018. So our fires are really small, but our country's also very densely populated.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

So that the challenges are quite different in like Netherlands than for example, in rural Spain or rural Portugal.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Yeah. We had a 25 hectare fire in in 2018, that was a big threat for a campsite, for instance, that was there. And I know of very small fires in the UK that were a big threat as well. So when you have a lot of people and especially also when the awareness for landscape fires is low, and when the preparedness is mostly focused on urban methods, then you don't need to have a thousand hectare fires to have a, a big risk.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Uh, a quote from nuclear fire prevention is like in nuclear facilities. Is that not every big fire is dangerous, not every dangerous fire is big and that's that's something that's really that touches on top of that. In pyro life, you've structured this whole let's say mission to learn the best practices figure out if they work for the south, transferred them to the north and do all this interesting interdisciplinary research into three main groups, risk quantification, risk reduction, and risk communication. Are they equally important to you? Quantifying. Reduction. Communication? How do we feel about them? Because in project it's quite evenly spread. And I wondered if it's if you put the same emphasis on each of them or

Cathelijne Stoof:

We need, we need everything. And especially I see in these newly fire-prone countries, we need we need to have more knowledge of the fires themselves of the impact of the fires, not just by a physical impact, but also the social impacts. We need to have information on the awareness, and how to communicate their risk. So it is about integrated fire management. So, so we focus on all the different parts of the integrated fire management. And, so really one part cannot do without the other. And that's not just in the temperate regions, but also in the Mediterranean region.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I really love how the risk communication was put in there because in, from this, 30, some minutes into the chat, it's obvious. Yeah. But if I was exposed to just the slogans before I've met you or learned about Pyro Life, I would like, communications, like you were going to talk to fire. That's not really helpful. But now, as we've mentioned that you have these new people in the countryside, you have the policymakers who see fire truck in, or air tanker in their head when thinking about solutions, this even if you do the best science and you do with the best solutions, you still have to sell them to make them worth your time research.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Yeah, but, but also we need to be able to communicate the right messages to different types of people. So we need to communicate to the policymakers, listen, spending 55 million euros on air tankers. I would say spend that money on prevention, um, spend that money on landscape management on a good public information campaign. So if you spend money on prevention on, on, on living with fire, your money will go much longer way than if you only spend it on air tankers. if you prepare well for the fire, it's cheaper than mopping up. Well, mopping up the flood or suppressing the fire. And so we need to communicate that to the policymakers who make the decisions, we need to communicate it out also to the people living in the landscape and in the villages, what they can do themselves to reduce the risk around their homes, what to do in case a fire occurs. and then we need to tailor that to various vulnerable groups, because, the message you share with a young person a teenager who's with our phone is different from the message you share with, with older people who may be less mobile or or a tourist who don't speak your language.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Sorry for asking this, but I have to, it must be like really painful when you hear the numbers or the summarized costs of a mega fire. Like it's not even in millions anymore. We're talking about fires that literally consume gross domestic product of a small country in one single event. And then you confronted with funding available fire science or management or prevention. You have obtained the most impressive grant in this terms and that's a few million euros, compared to a single fire that could have costed 20 billions. So you could fund not 15, but a whole village off of PhD students thinking about that.

Cathelijne Stoof:

And we're talking about money now but then in addition to that, we have the lives that are lost and the lives that are changed because of those devastating fires. We often say it's manage the fuels stupid, but it's more challenging than that. We have this prevention paradox that we also have with COVID. if you and I get to diversity now, because prevention basically stepping up to make sure that something devastating doesn't happen, but when something devastating does happen, the person who saves us or the air tanker is always going to be the hero. In prevention, the hero is the person who makes the social connections, who foresees problems before they arise. And who through the connections you make you basically prevent something from happening or you reduce the impact of when it does happen. And those people are not considered the heroes. So one of the project in PyroLife, Hugo Lambrechts is working at is how to make prevention enticing. Um, and the reason I get to diversity is because fire science, but also fire suppression. The fire service is very masculine. It's very much about the biggest trucks, the biggest air tankers. It's very much about suppression. Peter Moore from FAOs. One said if we had diversity in fire 40 years ago, we wouldn't have the challenges that we have now. You mentioned the risk quantification, risk reduction, risk communication, but we also have four axes of diversity and we discussed the other three already. It's the cross geography. Is the cross risk or cross discipline. And we it's the intersectoral approach. So linking academia and practice. And the fourth one is social diversity because if you want to do this integrated fire management and if you want to, move to living with fire, we need to hear all voices. It's not just the voices that shout about the fire suppression about the air tankers that we that we should hear, but we should also hear the other approaches. And actually this preventative approach is more feminine than the masculine approach of suppression. So we need to have more women involved in fire. We also need to have people from various different cultures involved in fire. Um, we need to have rural people. We need to have city people. We need to have all people. We need to have young people involved. So it's about social diversity as well. It's about a safe working climate. It's about attracting diverse people to, to work in this area. And it's about keeping those people in our field to work in fire. Because often for minorities, it's much more challenging, to work then than if you're part of a majority. So that's also what, we're, what we're trying to bring to fire.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I wonder the career path of a pyro manager exists and if not, we should create one, you know, a person that's responsible, managing this cross sector approaches in a certain region to make sure it clicks right.

Cathelijne Stoof:

I like that. So the thought behind PyroLife, we discussed the reason we need integrated fire management, but the reason we need to train people in a different way is because the standard academic approach and the standard approach in schools is to focus on single disciplines. And also the way that scientific excellence is considered is focused on single disciplines. It's about people that are very strong in fundamental science, focused on one thing. But we need to redefine scientific excellence. We need also to consider the societal impact of research. We need to consider the excellence of science communication. So moving away from considering papers and funding to be scientific excellence, but also this broader impact.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I've often said that we need more impact, less factors. I think. You're also creating this type of science. I mean, of course it's meant for your colleagues in academia or researchers in other universities, but it's not focused on them. They're not the key benefactors of the science. You know, the science is not the benefactor of the science. It's the people and much of the science today is made, to satisfy other researchers and yield citations, yield impact factors have grants being approved and have grant funding been approved after you finished. Give proofs that you've achieved this excellence, whatever that is, right.

Cathelijne Stoof:

and I strongly believe that science and my science. Better when we work closely with people in the field. So, with these Portuguese villagers, whom who taught me a lot about fire and the landscape and the changing climate with stakeholders in the field I know that outside of academia, there's a lot of data that is not even known to academics. And so. Close collaborations, where we're scientists listen to the challenges and ask for the challenges and read themselves into the challenges of people in practice can make the science better and can also make the science more relevant to those same people. And then we still need fundamental science. It's not that this change that we need only needs, it needs applied science. We definitely need fundamental science, but, it's making these links between academia and practice. And maybe the biggest impact is indeed not the scientific paper, but it's but it's completely something

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

It could, be a leaflet that was handed to a million people and they did saved a life of of some of them. And I think in the project, you have a bit of everything. Like you have this fundamental science, because there are people studying combustion and and fundamental fire behavior and fuel and all of this, right. You have, let's say the modelers or people who are looking into. Into different scales from from a building. And I'm happy to work with one of them who Simona, who's gonna figure out how to make, uh, houses more resilient to fires, but you're also have people looking into a bigger view, like a city landscape, like the, the whole regional fire management or fire problems. And then you have the communicators, the people who are meant to figure out how to get the message done, how to get the message translated into language that people can understand. How to figure out the most efficient way of communicating information gained from the south to the north, for example. You can go to a conference in Sweden and tell them all you know, about how Eucalyptus plants burn and it's going to be fun, fascinating, but not really very useful in, in there. Yeah. So that's the challenge because it's, you have to take this local ecosystem into the equation. And that's also something that I really liked emerging go over this talk that this fire and fire management is so closely bounded with the ecosystem, with the nature that surrounds

Cathelijne Stoof:

And the people in

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

And the people and the people. Yeah. And the people, because you'd consider fire as a part of this of this system. Not as an external, like we do in buildings, you don't treat it as it's not this earthquake that's going to shatter it. It's a part of it. And just, it can stay there, just make it, in its place,

Cathelijne Stoof:

Yeah.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

not too big, uh,

Cathelijne Stoof:

And, and what is really nice about PyroLife is an re we talked about fundamental science and applied science. You mentioned the diversity of the topics that we have. Ultimately it's, it's about people doing the type of work that they love. And some people are more interested in fundamental science, some more in applied science. We also have brilliant artists in the project. And, and that also links me to a master's course. I'll be teaching for the first time. I had it approved by you by the university,

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Nice.

Cathelijne Stoof:

The past year. And I'm

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Now that you got the most prestigious ITN grants, you've proved that you can handle a master course. Congratulations, Cathelijne

Cathelijne Stoof:

yeah, well, actually it did in, in setting up this master's course because we're building upon the courses that we teach in PyroLife. So in this course, it's called Pyrogeography and I'll teach you that at my university of Waggenigen University. We focus on the biophysical, , drivers and impacts, but also on the social drivers and impacts of fire, and we also make the link between art and science. and as a final project the students will it's basically a really open exercise where they can create something on an aspect about fire. So they can make a video. They can make a drawing or they can do a dance, like dance, your PhD but then about the, about fire or they can make information material any way to process the knowledge that they've have, to communicate that to people. So yeah, to the broader public to learn about fire and of course, didactically, that's a way for the students do to process the knowledge and apply the knowledge they have to communicate that and yeah, link between art and science or more creative approaches in science.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I think you created a little bit more than you than you think with that, because it's not just releasing the art spirit or allowing people do what they love, but he also in a way, make them communicate in the form that resonates with them the best. And if it resonates with them and their young students, it's very likely to resonate with their colleagues, their peers, the people from their generation. And it's also something that, you know, it was missed, let's say 30, 40 years ago, without diversity in fire, that the communication was like either scolding. Like, I will tell you now what to do and listen up to this lecture. This is what you shall do, or it was difficult to understand or impossible to understand in forms of very technical or very scientific papers. And this is not a communication that will resonate with people that you want to reach. Right.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Well, in fact, that is the message of a very short letter that I published in nature with David Bowman in which we argue that diversity is needed to fight fires because the communities we work in and the real world that's not right. Men, that's not just white men. We have men and women and other genders, and we have people from various different cultures. What would I hope for the future is that that by focusing on these diversities, we can attract more diverse people to work in our field doing the things they love. so that, the fire community that works on these topics can more reflect the communities that the benefit from our work.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Yeah. That's fantastic. This way I presented that this old ways of communication, that's not communication. That's broadcasting. And what you're trying to get is two way feedback, like connection with the listener, because then, you know, they've listened, right.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Yeah. And, and what is important in there is that I don't want everybody to be an expert in communication. It's fine. If somebody's, does my master's course and things of this last exercise that, okay, I've done this now. I'm never going to do it again. Fine, and it's also in PyroLife, there's parts that people may not be interested in, but by doing them once and especially by all these diverse people receiving the same kind of training, we create a common basis, common knowledge and a language that allows the people that empower life, but also in our master's course to communicate with each other across the different

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Okay. So by exposing them to the diverse array of experiences, you're preparing them for, for communicate because they will understand the needs of the other side pattern. That's nice. That's that sounds like a reasonably good approach.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Oh, thank you.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I'm a huge fan of this approach, of this project of, you know, changing this paradigm because, one planet we have and it's kind of burning, so it would be great to, to save it. And every year you see this fires, this should, it shouldn't happen. Like you should not have the dyno 18 out of 20 biggest fires in history that happened in like last 10 or 20 years. Right. It's it's and you cannot just blame that on, on, on the global warming

Cathelijne Stoof:

If we only blame it on global warming then you miss the part that we can actually manage on the short term and that's to manage it.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

You seem to have a solution or at least you seem to have a good idea what the solution could look like. And now you're having 15 brilliant people do find that solution, right? That's

Cathelijne Stoof:

The challenging is I'm not the first one to say that we need to live with fire. And actually indigenous peoples have lived with fire.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

I know it's a part of PyroLife, this indigenous knowledge that exists, that works and why it's not there as the, the first thing that comes to your mind when dealing with fire?

Cathelijne Stoof:

What I've learned that, from working with indigenous peoples is that they indigenous knowledge is often ignored in Western countries. We see that in Australia, we see that across the U S and Canada. And ignoring and indigenous knowledge, We that white people can say, oh we invented this. Well, we didn't invent this because we were absolutely not first to, to use fire in the landscape. And so I think the ignorance of indigenous knowledge in fire reflects a broader pattern of ignoring indigenous cultures. So I think as a fire community we could definitely do better in investing in this collaboration with indigenous peoples.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Okay. You know what? That's brilliant. There is a PhD student on this subject in PyroLife right . Cathelijne Stoof: Um, Kathleen with research institute Zion I in, in New Zealand and she will work with Maori to see how they do living with fire and also see how Zion collaborates with the Maori. Let's do this as a full episode to, to give it the justice. Okay. Um, you know what, I think let's go back to wrapping up because we're all already over the time. So all these aspects of pyro life, they're really interesting and important, and it's just a huge, huge topic. So where should I redirect the person to learn more about Pyrolife? There's obviously the webpage . Cathelijne Stoof: So we on which we have this job vacancy for our fire resilient landscape PhD project, deadline, 12th, September. We also are active on Twitter and Instagram and we have a YouTube channel. And then on the broader things the masters course that's coming on Pyrogeography. I don't there, it's listed on the Waggenigen university course guide, so that will run in January. And then we also have a job vacancy coming up about fire, social sciences and, and developing training for a postdoc researcher or a researcher without a PhD degree. That's fine as well. And so that deadline is on September 19th. So, so we have a few things coming up and for which I just put in plugs. Yeah, it's I'm hearing, this discussion, it seems your work ethic and the places where you put the pressure and focus on are really nice for someone as a student to work with you. So I guess this was a good advertisement. Let's hope someone someone changes their life by by working with with PyroLife or with you or going through the Pyrogeography curse.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Thanks.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Okay, Cathelijne that was that was really great, really insightful. And there's so much more to come out of the PyroLife project. I really like it's sucks with the pandemic that's kind of ruined the experience, but as I see that as the project moves on, there will be more momentum of this pieces, now locking together and creating the even more exciting output then than they have so far.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Yeah, because I really look forward to the moment that we can bring people together. I mean, our PhD candidates started two weeks after the pandemic Europe, so we've never been able to meet yet. And I really do think that this, these collaborations across disciplines and countries and people that, that really thrives when people can just get together and hang out and chat. And so of course talk giving the formal presentations in conferences are nice. But I think the magic happens in informal interactions it's about, it's basically about fire friends hanging out and then that's so inspirational just to, to chat with people and you get brilliant ideas in the middle of the night. And I really looked forward to that.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

And with this nice accent that let's wrap it up. Thank you so much , for joining me in here and all the best with the PyroLife project and your other exciting projects you have and changing the fire science and management into something better.

Cathelijne Stoof:

Thanks a lot. Yeah, you too.

Wojciech Wegrzynski:

Yeah. So did you like it? I really thoroughly enjoyed this discussion. It's kind of mind-boggling and eye opening to think that our current paradigm of how we deal with wildfires, this kind of suppression mentality, where all we need to do is extinguish fires. How, how this approach , is kind of failing us. And we see that in the news every now and. And this approach to emphasize the landscape management, these good practices in making the land safe for fire, limiting the risk, managing the risk. Actually it seems very complimentary to them, current, , suppression, a way of thinking. And it seems to some sort of a combination of both worlds with actually leads to much safer world beds that we aren't. So I'm really happy that Cathelijne did try her chances with this huge PyroLife grant. And trust me, obtaining this, , ITN Maria Skodowska-Curie action is, is a really, really huge achievement. Then it's very difficult and there's such a competition , for this grants and she did it. She tried her chances. She's built a fantastic group of leading institutions. She made them think together, work out an outline of the project, come up with, with this fantastic interdisciplinary endeavor to connect risk quantification, reduction, and then communication into one huge complimentary package. And now with some huge successes, despite the COVID situation. She's leading a new generation of young fire leaders to the world of fire science, but the PyroLife is not just the students. It's also this huge collaboration of all the institutions, universities, institutes, private companies around them. That participate in training these young leaders, but also participate in exchanging information, knowledge, organizing workshops that you can attend. So the impact of this project will be much, much beyond just the PhD's awarded after the grant or the papers published from it. So yeah, I would strongly recommend keeping an eye on the PyroLife if you are listening to this episode, that is premiere is probably worth to check the open positions at Pyro life. There's one PhD position open for landscape management that Catalina has talked about in the chat. There's also some, , master curses that she's organizing. Postdoc position in her group. So a lot of opportunities to, to work with this fantastic group of people. And if you are from the future, then you probably should check out what new outcomes came out of the PyroLife project, because I am sure that a lot of great outcomes will be reaching the sunlight and you'll hear more and more of them. This project. So yeah, I hope you really enjoyed this chat. For the next week. We're gonna go back a bit to the buildings. Actually. We're going to discuss a bit of what the performance-based fire safety engineering is. So you're probably going to look forward to that one because it's something that I've looked for a long time and really enjoyed touching this and great subjects. Yeah. Another week packed with a fire science, adventure. Hope you like it. See you next Wednesday. Thank you for listening.