Komareks’ international work lives on as Europe explores prescribed fire

Jul 18, 2023

Ed and Betty Komarek’s boot prints remain in Portugal’s soot more than 50 years after they went there to spread the gospel of prescribed fire.

Fast forward to 2023, and the same areas around Mafra where one of the original Tall Timbers founders visited are still being managed with prescribed fires.

The area hosted the sixth International Prescribed Fire Meeting, FlameWork VI, in May, where Tall Timbers Fire Training Specialist Greg Seamon, who works in the National Interagency Prescribed Fire Training Center, discussed cultural burning and prescribed burning in South Africa, the U.S., France, Brazil and Portugal.

Seamon was among 50 prescribed fire practitioners who divided to burn three areas in the region – a 10-year rough at the School of Arms for the Portuguese Army, a 3-year rough at the same location and a 3-year rough on an extinct volcano in Montemuro.

Students from the civil protection professional school in Sintra, where they train to work in civil protection, including wildland fire, observed one of the burns taking place.

The group returned to the burn areas the next day to discuss the fire’s impact and objectives and determine whether the desired results were achieved.

Ed and Betty Komarek lit a prescribed fire in Portugal in the 1970s. Their trip there to promote fire use is still part of local knowledge among practitioners.

The review was mixed based on each participant’s background and occupation. It ranged from positive reviews from those looking for a patchy burn to protect wildlife and negative results from participants interested in the removal of hazardous fuels.

In the 1970s, the Komareks lit a prescribed fire in the National Hunting Park of Tapada De Mafra. Ed Komarek, the director of Tall Timbers for more than 20 years, also served as a consultant to the Portuguese Forest Service.

The nearly 2,000-acre property first opened as the personal hunting reserve of the King of Spain in the 18th century and today is set aside as a game preserve that now hosts thousands of school children annually.

The use of prescribed fire has continued, with the Portuguese Forest Service burning to reduce fuels over more than half of the communal forest in the area in the 1980s.

Seamon said the influence of the Komareks remains in the region, as does the knowledge of fire research by Tall Timbers over the past 65 years.

Tall Timbers Fire Training Specialist Greg Seamon, right, on a prescribed fire in Portugal as part of the FlameWork VI conference in May. Seamon works in the National Interagency Prescribed Fire Training Center.

The PFTC housed at Tall Timbers in Tallahassee hosts fire practitioners from across the world for regular training and workshops.

But the FlameWork conference is an opportunity to gain perspective about how humans on nearly every continent are using fire to manage wildlife and forests and preempt wildfires.

“It’s a great way to get people who are practitioners from all over the world to discuss what they’re doing, what their hurdles are, and how they’re overcoming them,” Seamon said. “Fire is fire whether it’s in Brazil or Germany.”

Mediterranean region countries are well-versed in using prescribed fire, but other parts of Europe where wildfire is historically less common are now looking at adopting practices to help them get ahead of catastrophe. The 2022 wildfire season was the second worst over the last two decades, with fires burning in 26 European Union countries.

“They’re realizing fire is coming with changing climate, and we can work on fighting it once it happens, or we can prepare for it,” Seamon said. “They’ve never had to deal with wildfires, much less prescribed fire, and they’re thinking about what to do because that’s a growing reality.”

About the Author
Karl Etters
A Tallahassee native, Karl has a background in journalism and an even deeper background in exploring North Florida's wild spaces. Merge the two, and he's Tall Timbers' communication coordinator. When he's not spending time with family and friends, he can be found fly fishing, hunting, biking or walking the woods looking for turkeys.
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