11 December 2014

Sill Wildfire Conference attracts leading international experts

Experts from across Europe gathered in Northumberland for a unique wildfire event.

The International Wildfire Conference, organised by The Sill in partnership with Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, took place near Rothbury in Northumberland, which is the home of the only automated wildfire detection system in the UK.

The Sill is enabling wider audiences to learn about the ground breaking partnership work between Northumberland National Park Authority and Northumberland Fire and Rescue. These two partners plan to position themselves at the forefront of work on wildfire in the future and this event bolstered their aims, attracting academics, land managers and fire and rescue professionals from the UK and Europe.

The two-day conference brought delegates together to discuss how recent research and developments in land management approaches affect the way in which wildfire can be prevented and tackled.

Attendees travelled from as far afield as Poland, Holland and Spain and Andy Elliott from Dorset Fire and Rescue Service drove a specialist fire vehicle all the way up from Dorset to allow other delegates to view it.

Dorset Fire's specialised fire vehicle 

Marc Castellnou, Head of Fire Analysis and Strategy at Fire Service of Catalunya in Spain, was one of a number of speakers who shared his knowledge around integrating natural disturbances into risk management and practical stakeholding on shared land.

Dr Thomas Smith, a lecturer in Physical and Environmental Geography at Kings College London, posed the question 'how can aerial sensing and computer simulation modelling enhance understanding of wildfire preparedness and prevention in northern European landscapes?' 

He also outlined a pilot project in Northern Ireland, where a fire spread modelling system has been used to identify at-risk areas and suitable management solutions.

Other speakers included Nienke Brouwer and Ester Willemsen, both from the Dutch Wildfire Spread Model Team, and Mark de Jong, from King's College London.

As well as a day filled with engaging talks, debates and discussions at Linden Hall, day two of the conference took delegates out into the field to Rothbury for a demonstration of the automated wildfire system. This was followed by visits to Simonside to view the Northumberland Fire Group Argocat with its pressurised fogging system, specialist tools used by officers responding to wildfire incidents, then on to a tour of the Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service headquarters in West Hartford.

Helikite demonstration 

Paul Hedley, Deputy Chief Fire Officer – Strategy and Support Services at Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, spoke at the event on addressing the UK wildfire threat from a fire and rescue perspective. He discussed some of the main UK fire and rescue service milestones in the ongoing development of the national wildfire best practice, as well as the importance of effective partnerships in improving fire and rescue services' wildfire pre-planning, response and suppression activities.

He said: "The recent Wildfire Conference hosted by Northumberland National Park Authority was an outstanding event which showcased some of the innovative developments and excellent progress that is being made across the wildfire stakeholder community – both from within the UK and internationally. 

"Wildfire presents a unique set of challenges for a very diverse range of partners which includes emergency services, land managers, conservation and environmental protection groups, Government agencies, academics and researchers. The conference highlighted the absolute importance of all agencies working in collaboration to meet the growing wildfire threat to enable us all to better prepare, prevent, respond and suppress wildfire incidents."

Northumberland National Park Authority has been working with Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service for a number of years to trial and pilot an automated detection system for providing an early warning for wildfire - the only one of its kind in the UK.

The £11.2m Sill project, which is led by Northumberland National Park and YHA (England and Wales), plans to utilise this unique offer in Northumberland by positioning itself at the forefront of work on wildfire in the coming years as part of its extensive offer, not just at a local and regional level but also nationally and internationally.

Andrew Miller, Head of Programmes and Conservation at Northumberland National Park Authority, said: "The conference provided a great opportunity to share latest thinking on wildfire prevention and management from across Europe. Experts in wildfire risk management utilising state of the art computer modelling met representatives from protected landscapes and fire and rescue services to exchange knowledge and experience. 

"New partnerships were formed and plans for further collaborative work discussed to link more strongly, academic research with practical land management and wildfire suppression. All agreed that the Sill will provide unique opportunities to further this work in coming years through collaborative field trails, technological based research and shared events."

The development phase of The Sill project has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). If you are interested in lending your support to the project or would like to find out more, contact The Sill team on thesill@nnpa.org.uk
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