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What does it mean that a fire is 'sixth generation'?

The Sierra Bermeja forest fire, in Malaga, has finally been declared ‘controlled’, as reported by the Andalusian Forest Fire Extinction Service. Five days have passed, more than seven thousand hectares burned and a lot of tension on the part of the fire fighting services due to the difficulty in accessing control of this fire.

During the follow-up of this catastrophe, what most caught the attention of journalists in the development of this terrible fire were the words used by the deputy director of the Regional Operational Center of Infoca, Alejandro García. He called it a ‘sixth generation fire’. Well, what do the experts mean by this terminology? Are ‘sixth generation’ fires harder to control?

José Ramón González Pan, member of the Governing Board of the Official College of Forest Technical Engineers, clarifies this in a telephone conversation with VERY INTERESTING: “It is not a technical term; you go to the United States and nobody talks about the sixth generation, but it is not incorrect ”.

According to González Pan, this term refers to the complexity and virulence of the fire: “When a fire like this occurs, at a certain point in its development phase, it is capable of changing the meteorological conditions of its environment; that is to say, it generates its own meteorology ”, he explains.

Using a very informative mental image, the expert explains that these kinds of fires are like ‘a great pot of energy’. This energy in the form of heat rises up to the atmosphere until a real cloud is generated, which is known as a pyrocumulus. “The sun and heat help and, thus, the fire keeps that kind of boiler working.”

These kinds of fires are very complex. When they have an area of more than 500 hectares (ha), they are known as Great Forest Fire (GIF). This extension combined with this pyrocumulus that we have described, which causes a ‘meteorological change’ on a small scale, is what Alejandro García referred to with the sixth generation, which González Pan describes as ‘an extraordinary colleague and professional’. “He wanted to express that it was something he had never seen before. And why the sixth? When I retired there was talk of fourth “.

It seems that the terminology ‘generation’ to talk about fires refers to the way in which these fires evolve. “To journalists this word attracts a lot of attention, but the most important thing about this case is that it is a Great Forest Fire with great complexity to be extinguished, due to the orography of the area and the wind .”

The complexity of the Sierra Bermeja fire

The fire has characteristics that make it very difficult to control, as our expert pointed out, due to the area in which it broke out.

The marked slope of the relief accompanied by dry vegetation and other factors, such as the wind, make it extremely complex. “In these Large Forest Fires, the wind causes secondary fires, so the front does not advance linearly, but vertically,” González Pan continues to explain. In addition, the presence of a lot of dry vegetation due to the lengthening of the dry season was also key to promoting fires.

What role does climate change play here?

As scientists have been announcing, extreme events such as floods, but also catastrophic events such as large fires, can intensify and become more frequent over the years.

But there are also other factors that may be favoring the presence of fires in the Iberian Peninsula. As González Pan describes: “Since the 1980s we have become arid, this period of drought has been extended since the last rains at the end of spring,” he says. “In addition, since the 1960s we have been abandoning agricultural and livestock activities; this abandonment of the terrain by human hands has created more or less uniform and continuous masses, which does a lot of damage to the fight against fires. When you have thousands of homogeneous hectares, without another type of landscape that could interrupt the fire, it spreads more easily ”.

Finally, the expert also points out the proximity of the urban world to the forests: ”The mountain has drawn closer to the towns; that’s where fires do the most damage, in the urban-forest interface ” .

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