This year has been marked by the tragic events of the Grenfell Tower fire in London and by huge forest fires in California, Portugal and Spain. As fire scientists and engineers, we call for substantially more funding for fire research, which is currently negligible worldwide.
Even though fire has been a risk to humanity for millennia, our understanding of how it spreads is limited to semi-empirical correlations. There are many unknowns that threaten global public safety and incur billions of dollars of expenditure annually to protect property, communities, businesses and the environment.
Following our open letter to the European Commission on 23 June, there has been intense discussion of fire-safety issues in the media. However, most of the crucial questions cannot yet be answered. As well as a fundamental theory to explain fire spread (M. A. Finney et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 9833–9838; 2015), we need to determine how fire and climate affect each other, how humans behave in an emergency (M. Moussaïd et al. J. R. Soc. Interface 13, 20160414; 2016) and how best to respond to fires to minimize their consequences (N. Pidgeon and M. O’Leary Safety Sci. 34, 15–30; 2000). Only then can we develop and implement proper safety technologies.
Nature 551, 300 (2017)