year, some 45,000 forest fires break out in Europe. Between 1989 and
1993, 2.6 million hectares of woodland were destroyed by fire in the
Mediterranean alone. That amounts to an area equal to that of Belgium
being struck off the map every five years.
Fires cause considerable damage in terms of loss of life and in environmental
terms through the destruction of fauna and flora. They also have serious
economic implications: destruction of habitats, forest damage, costs
of fire-fighting, and so on.
Most of these fires are caused by man. However, there are many natural
factors such as drought, wind speed and topography, which influence
the spread of fires and govern their devastating effects.
Fire-fighting is a complicated business. The aim of research is to
understand the behaviour of fire and to give decision-makers, technicians,
and firemen the tools to enable them to act with the necessary effectiveness
The European Commission is funding several pilot projects. They are
- identify high-risk areas clearly
- perfect accurate detection methods
- establish effective solutions to control and reduce the spread of
fires, and restore affected areas.
The MEGAFIRES project, for example, produces a map of "danger"
areas in Mediterranean countries, while MEFISTO produces real-time forest
fire simulators, and PROMETHEUS studies the effects of fires on vegetation
and suggests management methods to limit damage.
MINERVE: a question of method
Predicting the level of meteorological
danger is a key aspect of protecting forests from fire. Among other
things, it enables better management of combat strategies. The problem
is that each country tends to use its own methods. The MINERVE project
compared the different methods used in Mediterranean countries. In the
end, a Canadian method (Indice Forêt Météo) was
chosen and successfully tested in France, bringing improved results
for everyone's benefit.