We live in a rapidly changing world. Technology has advanced at a fast pace during these last decades and has progressively brought us new materials and innovative design solutions with the aim of making our homes more comfortable, energy and cost efficient, environmentally friendly and flexible. Moreover, the way in which we interact with the landscape has also evolved. New socio-economic realities have boosted high rates of occupation leading to massive urban settlements, quite often intermixing with the wildland and other natural spaces. Our climate is also changing. Global warming is generally increasing wildfire risk and new fire-prone communities are emerging.
However, the progress of fire safety science has not been as rapid to cope with this complex situation. Residential fires are now characterized by new propagation paths and increasing fuel loads of new flammable materials. Furthermore, fire emergencies are more diverse than ever, affecting both urban and wildland-urban interface residents. Hence at present, fires are more virulent, they spread with unpredictable behaviour, they are more difficult to manage as they used to be and they are responsible of huge human and environmental damage with large economic and social consequences.
Carcaixent Fire (Comunitat Valenciana, Spain, Summer 2016) Photos David Caballero
Fire research community has many different challenges to face for the years to come. Among many others, we can highlight three of the most stimulating ones:
- We should understand the role of new combustible substances in fire growth and development compared to traditional materials used some decades ago. New construction methods and materials have a great effect in fire dynamics and contribute to flashover and other violent expressions of fire, more significantly than classic solutions; we must get the definite picture of which options are inherently fire-safe and which ones aren’t and as such require further effort to guarantee fire protection.
- We should get insights on how new wildland-urban interface fires interact with the built environment. Wildfires getting into urban areas can have a devastating effect and we should be able to distinguish the driving mechanisms that allow fire spreading from one structure to another. This is a complex problem as the interaction of macro-scale environmental parameters (topography, weather, wildland vegetation) with lower-scale building parameters (design, configuration and materials) has to be properly identified and understood.
- We should improve environmental risk assessment methodologies to assess the global impact of large fires. Fires have a wide range of adverse consequences on the environment, such as water run-off, smoke pollution, carbon emissions, and health effects. New materials may entail new environmental hazards which have to be clearly discerned and minimized.
Fire scenarios have evolved over last few decades together with and motivated by a continued desire of human beings to live in better conditions. Fire safety research has a key role in providing the right answers that shall make current housing trends much safer than they are and more sustainable in a dynamic environment.