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A demonstration of South Korean aerial firefighting techniques.
A demonstration of South Korean aerial firefighting techniques.

Insights from South Korea

I am currently attending the 6th International Wildland Fire Conference in Pyeongchang in South Korea, a conference the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC is proud to be a partner of. Set up to enable the sharing of information, practice and research from all nations around the world, the conference is held in a different location every four years. It represents a great chance to continue to build the international linkages of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, with the CRC represented in the exhibit as part of the International Association of Wildland Fire’s stand. 

The South Koreans have organised a great forum for discussions. There are many nations represented here this week, including around 15 people from Australia. The opening address was by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon via video, along with senior members of the South Korean Government.

The keynote presenters have set the challenges for the future. Steven Pyne from the US spoke about how we can learn from the history of fire, while the US Forest Service’s Sarah McCaffrey highlighted the importance of understanding communities and of not being blinded by your assumptions. 

Also in focus has been South Korea's fire management system, which included a demonstration of firefighting techniques and aerial firefighting expertise. This was followed by a field trip to an ancient Buddhist temple in Yang Yang which was destroyed by a bushfire in 2005.

The call across the conference has been that there are strong trends across the globe toward an increasing number of fires, of greater intensity and burning more land. There are many causes for this, including poor fire management over a number of years, a changing climate and greater population density.

A critical part of this conference is the regional discussions, which in our case focused on the exchanges of fire knowledge and science between the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. 

Tom Harbour, Director of Fire and Aviation in the US Forest Service, has reiterated the need for better exchange of knowledge, to better understand the role of fire in our societies, and the need to remove the "fear of fire" as we cannot engage in a meaningful conversation when people are scared.

As I said at the top, Australia is well represented here this week. Delegates have heard from the former CEO of the Bushfire CRC Gary Morgan, PhD student Kangmin Moon and Dr Luba Volkova from the University of Melbourne, Steve Yorke from NSW RFS, CFA’s Alen Slijepcevic, and Tracy Grimes and Fiona Dunston from CFS.

I am sure there will be plenty more important insights over the remaining two days.

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