Extreme fires are very complex events in terms of causes, intensity, behaviour, variability, resistance to control, size, and severity; they are usually associated with important environmental, social and economic consequences thus being a relevant public policy concern, especially considering that the frequency of occurrence of extremely severe fire weather may increase as a consequence of climate changes.
In Portugal, one of the trends that characterizes wildfires activity has been the appearance of events that reached extreme behaviours and grow to previously unheard sizes. Although these fires present a very low frequency of occurrence, they are an important challenge, mainly when they affect wildland urban interface. The answer of Portuguese authorities was to implement a stronger and reinforced fire response system. Strengthening the suppression capabilities in terms of means, readiness and effectiveness is important, not to suppress extreme fires which is rather difficult, but to avoid the escalation of small fires to extreme fires, which behave beyond the suppression means capacities even in the most prepared and equipped regions.
Extreme fires may become so complex in terms of operational organization that most times logistic aspects prevail over tactical ones. The current fire policy based on suppression is not able to solve a problem requiring integrated prevention and preparation strategies.
Considering the complexity of the ecological and human variables contributing to extreme fire events, coexisting with fire over the coming decades will involve increasingly complex tradeoffs.
This cannot be reached if we just see the “trees” and miss the”forest”, i.e. wildfire management cannot be focused on single, discrete elements that influence fire occurrence and severity, but must consider the whole human-fire-landscape system.