Every summer brings high risks of forest fires in Europe and no country is immune. Greece, Spain, Bulgaria and Bosnia and Herzegovina have been seriously affected in 2013. When the fire gets too big for a country to extinguish on its own, the European Union's Civil Protection Mechanism can be activated to coordinate help from participating states (water bombing aircraft, fire-fighting equipment and personnel).
European assistance is coordinated by the Emergency Response Centre (ERC) of the European Commission. The ERC is the operational heart of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. In August it helped bring speedy assistance twice to Bosnia and Herzegovina when it was struggling with forest fires. Following the ERC intervention, fire-fighting aeroplanes were provided by Croatia. In early September assistance through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was also provided to Portugal where the fires claimed nine fire-fighters' lives. Fire-fighting planes and a helicopter were provided by Croatia.
The ERC is actively monitoring the forest fire evolution and risks across Europe. It uses national monitoring services and tools such EFFIS (the European Forest Fire Information System). The ERC is also in constant contact with the national authorities. During each summer, for example, it holds weekly video-conferences with the most fire prone Member States. Upon their request the ERC can also provide satellite imagery of the affected areas. In 2013, Portugal and the UK were provided with the satellite images.
A burning problem
More parts of Europe are prone to forest fires and the risky period is increasing due to heat waves, dry weather and erratic rains. In the summer of 2012, more than 10 people died or were injured in fires, thousands of Europeans were evacuated and hundreds of thousands were affected.
The European Civil Protection Mechanism was activated 21 times over the last three summers to respond to forest fires inside and outside Europe. During the 2012 forest fire season nine requests for assistance were received by Bulgaria, Montenegro, Albania, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece and Portugal.