This past month I had the pleasure of representing the Lassonde Institute of Fire Engineering at the 15th International Wildland Fire Safety Summit and 5th Human Dimensions Conference in Asheville, North Carolina. Organized by the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF), the conference was a glowing success despite the unexpected snowstorm that threw a wrench in many attendees’ travel plans. The fact that only one presentation had to be cancelled as a result of these challenges highlighted to me just how determined and passionate the presenters and event organizers were to share the important research being conducted in the field of wildfire safety and human factors in the wildland urban interface (WUI).

The five-day conference ran from December 10th – 14th and consisted of a wide range of workshops, presentations, poster sessions, and networking opportunities. The conference went outside the box to offer various types of presentations, ranging from plenaries and panels that allowed for dialog and diverse perspectives, to deep-dives that encouraged in-depth learning and participation, to themed sessions of 20-minute presentations exploring new and innovative research being conducted. The conference also provided a unique opportunity for academics and practitioners to learn from each other, discuss partnerships and challenge assumptions. As a young academic entering the field, it was invigorating to be immersed in such a supportive environment. The topics discussed were diverse and varied. They included gender equality; cultural perspectives; firefighter safety and decision making; community mitigation, recovery, and evacuations; fire use, health, research-practitioner partnerships, and many more. I presented elements of my own research on the use of human behaviour in fire to improve WUI evacuations, looking at what we currently know about the factors impacting protective action decision making and how we can collect additional information using techniques such as surveying. The conference paper will be available on the conference webpage (here) in early February 2019.

Taking place on the heels of the devastating November wildfires in California, this conference felt even more poignant. In providing a platform to discuss the human dimensions of wildfires, it promoted a more holistic understanding of wildfires and the WUI. I am very proud and grateful that I was able to be a part of this event.

Lauren Folk, MASc Candidate