Oregon is not the only place seeing historic and unprecedented wildfires in recent years. Australia, for example, experienced some of the world’s most devastating fires in 2019-2020.
In response to fires both in Australia and around the globe, Gabriela Raducan, an Australian educator and researcher, founded a not-for-profit called Tech4Future, and launched F.I.R.E. – Fire Initiative in Research and Education, a global research program that aims to prevent disastrous bushfires and wildfires across the world.
Raducan is a physicist with a multidisciplinary background, including a PhD in Geospatial Sciences from RMIT University in Melbourne, where she conducted research in the field of bushfires. She left her university teaching job to focus her time and energy on the F.I.R.E. program, which is split into three categories: research and development, bushfire management, and educational programming.
Research and Development
One of Raducan’s goals is to develop a device that can extinguish fires without using water or toxic substances. She is currently working on a prototype, deciding to launch the initiative even though the device is not yet finished.
“I’m at the stage of prototyping the device, and I was planning to launch the whole initiative after I finished the prototype, but what happened in Australia in the summer 2019-2020 with the bushfires here was really, really awful,” Raducan said. “We don’t live in that area where the big bushfires happened, but the air was so polluted that we couldn’t breathe even inside the house.”
Similar to several weeks during Oregon’s wildfire season, Raducan had to stay in her home as a result of the bushfires, due to smoke and poor air quality.
“I have a background in researching air pollution which I did in the United Kingdom, so I know very well how harmful the air pollution could be for health, for everybody. Not only for humans, of course, but only talking about humans – it’s really harmful,” Raducan said. “And for the long-term, basically the research hasn’t found the side effects yet, so we don’t know what will happen with our health after we are exposed to high levels of pollutants over the years.”
Another facet of Raducan’s program is providing recommendations to improve the management of fires, in order to avoid getting in a situation that is “out of control.”
“From my point of view, let’s think about earthquakes. We can’t prevent an earthquake, right? But what we can do – we can build stronger houses,” Raducan said. “But in terms of wildfires, we can prevent them. We can’t get there when the blazes are more than 50 meters high, because we can’t fight these forces. So, the only thing that we can do when we’re in this situation is basically to clean a portion of the forest quickly.”
Ultimately, Raducan hopes new land management and forest management practices, paired with an educational program, will help prevent wildfires.
Raducan hopes to implement educational programs in fire prevention for children as young as kindergarten, given that the majority of fires across the world have human negligence as a root cause.
“They make a barbeque and they don’t put out the fire after the barbeque, they drop a cigarette in the bushes. They don’t do this on purpose, you know?” Raducan said. “These people can be educated, and when they are educated when they are very small, these rules will be in their blood.”
Raducan said she plans to reach out to governments and educational parties in different countries with the hopes of implementing fire education in kindergartens, high schools, universities, and workplaces.
She pointed to Finland as an example, noting that the country is recognized as having one of the best educational systems in the world, along with few forest fires.
“This is because, or thanks to, their land management and forest management, but also their educational system as well,” Raducan said. “Worldwide, in some countries more than 95% of fires are started from humans, from people.”
Australian Bushfires vs. Oregon Wildfires, and Fires in the Broader U.S.
Wildfires vary in different locations and countries based on a variety of factors.
“The wind speed can be very high. The vegetation is different. Some vegetation burns very easily, even if they are not dry. For example, the pine, the fir that you have in the United States,” Raducan said. “In Australia, we have eucalyptus – we have this kind of tree and bush everywhere here.”
Raducan said regardless of location, wildfires are likely to become worse due to global climate change, and stressed the importance of being prepared.
“This initiative is very important now – it would’ve been important ten years ago. It’s important anytime, from my point of view,” Raducan said. “But I think now it is very important to change all these mentalities related to land management.”
In the future, Raducan hopes to see her program implemented internationally.
“I would like people to understand that it’s time for a change,” Raducan said. “Basically, the wildfires are almost everywhere on the globe, so if this program is globally implemented, I’m sure things would be much, much better.”
More information on Tech4Future and Raducan’s F.I.R.E. program can be found on her website.
By Jada Krening