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1The journal Méditerranée has published very few papers on the theme of wildfires. Some references from the 1970s or 1990s looked at major blazes, but, broadly speaking, the subject is touched upon in many articles without being the key focus of the manuscripts, as if fire and its recurrence were merely a backdrop for other geographical investigations.
2This is a rather peculiar situation. How could the journal Méditerranée have overlooked such an emblematic topic? In the collective imagination, fire, for many reasons, is closely associated with the Mediterranean environment, which is frequently presented as “fragile” or “sensitive” to this particular “threat”. Each year fires consume forests and cause varying degrees of damage, leading to an increasing mobilization of civil security and other public services. The events are subsequently reported by the media, with widespread calls for caution. These make newspaper headlines for a time, before making way for other topics.
3This volume of Méditerranée intends to address the subject from a different angle. Many scientific publications address wildfires each year. Among this extensive body of research, forest specialists and climatologists hold leading positions, followed by other experts in combustion processes. But geographers interested in the question lag behind. They form a small community of researchers with a relatively discrete profile in international bibliographic databases.
4This is regrettable because geographers have a great deal to offer to this research theme. The present contributions derive from authors based throughout the Mediterranean Basin, even if no premeditated editorial decision was made to cover the whole geographical area. Of course, the aim was not to undertake a complete analysis. The theme is so broad and poorly covered in human geography that a standalone volume of Méditerranée can only pretend to open up the debate.
5Geography’s “inbetween” status means that this editorial project is advancing on shifting terrain. In addition to the promotion of a more united geography that transgresses the traditional divisions of “human” and “physical”, it seemed important to deconstruct certain myths and prejudices in order to demonstrate to what extent fire provides insights into the complex relationships between “natural” and “man-made” environments.
6In English, the question of “large” wildfires cannot be evoked without ambiguity. Should we not include “large wildfires” or “mega-fires”, keywords that are recurrent in most bibliographic databases? Because the actual “size” of fires might be thought of as a secondary factor, and basing the approach on the idea that the social-political impact of fires and their further consequences on land/urban planning take precedence over their actual “size” -i.e. area -, we thought it appropriate to coin the term “great wildfires”. This choice is risky insofar as the adjective “great” increasingly has positive connotations in modern language. The advantage of this term is to suppress any spatial assumption and to openly advance the ambiguity: are these fires actual “disasters” (for land and urban planners) or “normal” events (the position widely adopted by forest engineers and naturalists) allowing entire forest covers to regenerate naturally?
7To disentangle these issues, the present volume has been divided into two parts. The first one includes papers whose authors analyze national scales or present general thoughts on the supposed “outbreak” of “great/large” wildfires in recent years. The underlying theme is the adaptation of public policies in the face of what is often viewed as a “worsening” of the situation, in line with the political and economic conditions of the concerned States and the supposed “failure” of their land planning. Assigning “great” wildfires on a quantitative scale is nearly impossible because these events both depend on local socio-political issues and arise from ecological conditions that “promote” their development – this is not applicable to “large” wildfires.
8Exceptional fires are analyzed more closely in part two. Particular case studies whose “size” does not necessarily refer to the extent of the burnt areas are discussed. Mental models often prevail in human geography. When symbolic places, functional and productive lands, natural “reserves”, or residential neighborhoods are burnt, the “threat” produces real impacts that no land/urban planner can ignore. The impact is all the more important because fires can occur in close proximity to urban centres. Most “critical” situations are prevalent at the forest-city interface. The more both environments intermingle, the greater the risk factor. The scenario of “failing” public policies seems therefore to be predetermined.
Régis DARQUES, « Foreword », Méditerranée [Online], 121 | 2013, Online since , connection on 22 March 2017. URL : http://mediterranee.revues.org/6810Top of page
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