Press Portal

Better Managing Wildfires

Study Published on Dealing with Forest Fires in Catalonia

Joan Herrera Bombers de la Generalitat de Catalunya
Photo: Joan Herrera: Forest Fires in La Llacuna.
Credit: Joan Herrera/Bombers de la Generalitat de

Serious forest fires in southern Europe and other parts of the world again dominated the headlines during the summer this year. And, as every year, the damage, both for the country and for people, is enormous.

Transforming the way society deals with fires is the subject of the Spanish environmental scientist Dr. Iago Otero. He is presently a guest researcher at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) – more precisely, at the Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys).

In the October issue of the journal Geoforum, Dr. Iago Otero and Prof. Jonas Nielsen of IRI THESys call for a comprehensive forest and fire management, in which the various parts of society - from the fire department by way of governmental authorities to the users of the forests – actively participate. This presupposes a change in perspective. “We should accept that fire and society coexist and derive from this a systematic and sustainable way of acting,” Otero says.

A core demand of the scientists for regions with a high risk of fires is the revival of forest management and cultivation. For a well-ordered forest is less flammable and hence reduces the risk of forest fires. The cultivation of the forest also increases the value attached to the forest as an economic good: for example, as a supplier of firewood as a sustainable and CO2-neutral source of energy.

The recommendation of fire management is based on the positive observations made by Iago Otero in Catalonia, where he conducted research on the fire management system. For two summers, he accompanied the highly-networked special unit of the Catalan fire department called GRAF. A changed way of looking at fire also led here to a new approach to fire fighting. Thus, for instance, the use of controlled backfires and a strategic burning-off of high-risk terrain have become an important part of preventing and fighting fires. One thus makes positive use of the properties of fire for one's own purposes. “The GRAF has broken away from the old approach, which wanted to eliminate fire from the ecosystem,” Iago Otero explains, “Instead, fire is seen as an inherent part of Mediterranean ecosystems, with which one has to deal.”

The article “Coexisting with wildfire?” is the first product of the post-doctoral project “The Political Ecology of Wildfires”, which Dr. Iago Otero has developed at IRI THESys in the research group of Professor Jonas Nielsen.


Otero, I., Nielsen, J.Ø. (2017): Coexisting with wildfire? Achievements and challenges for a radical social-ecological transformation in Catalonia (Spain). Geoforum, Volume 85, October 2017, Pages 234-246

Further Informations

Link to the study


Press and Public Relations Office

Phone: +49 30 2093-2345