The International Wildland Fire Conference is well underway at the Alpensia Convention Center and Resort in the beautiful mountainous region of Pyeongchang, South Korea. This is the sixth time that delegates from some 80 countries have come together to discuss and work on solutions to the many aspects of wildland fire – from forestry practices to remote sensing to smoke impacts to home destruction – that affect the globe.
More than 2,000 people were welcomed to Korea and the region by the minister of the Korea Forest Service and Choi Moon-Soon, the Governor of Gangwon-do, the province in which Pyeongchang lies. The 6th IWFC is the first to be hosted in Asia, and the hosts are rightly proud and eager to show international visitors the best their country has to offer in art, culture, resources, and of course, wildland fire management. Governor Choi was most welcoming and kindly gave delegates a few lessons in pronouncing Korean place names. Most importantly, he emphasized the very large difference between Pyeongchang and Pyeongyang, which no delegate who heard him will ever confuse.
Most gratifying to me as a representative of NFPA and a longtime advocate for community approaches such as Firewise has been the strong emphasis at the conference on a concept called Community Based Fire Management, or CBFiM. Depending on the place it is applied, it can involve indigenous knowledge of fire and forestry practices and volunteer firefighting. It also strongly emphasizes the same principles we in the US call Fire Adapted Communities, which encompasses programs such as Firewise and more.
Presenters in parallel sessions and plenary sessions called on us to listen to the community, to avoid making assumptions about their knowledge, and to engage people living in fireprone landscapes to take action towards their own safety and well-being. These themes that may be so familiar to Firewise practitioners are critically important to be spread globally at a time when government budgets are stretched thin and firefighting forces struggle to deliver effective response during massive fires.