European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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Forest fires

© European Union/ECHO

Why is this important?

Every year, devastating forest fires take place in Europe and around the world, destroying thousands of hectares of forests and affecting populations. When the scale of a fire exceeds the capacity of a country to extinguish it, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism can be activated to provide a rapid and effective response.

What are we doing?

The European Commission's Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC), the operational heart of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, monitors forest fire risk and incidence across Europe around the clock using national monitoring services and tools such as the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

Before the beginning of the forest fire season, the ERCC organises meetings with all countries participating in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to exchange information on the state of prevention, preparedness and response for the upcoming season. Over the summer period, the ERCC and countries at high risk of forest fires are in contact on a weekly basis. Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Croatia are the most fire-prone countries in Europe.

When national capacities to respond to a forest fire are surpassed, European countries can send assistance in the form of water-bombing aircrafts and helicopters, fire-fighting equipment, and personnel. To provide a joint and coordinated response, they channel the assistance and exchange real-time information through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Additionally, the Mechanism can co-finance the transport of assistance to the affected area.

For the 2018 forest fire season, the European Commission co-finances the stand-by availability of two additional aerial forest fire fighting capacities ("buffer capacities") to address potential shortcomings in responding to fires. These capacities from Italy (two Canadair) and Spain (two Air Tractors) are registered in the European Emergency Response Capacity ("voluntary pool).

In 2017, the Mechanism was activated 17 times for forest fire emergencies in Europe. Assistance was sent 10 times through the Mechanism to Portugal, Italy, Montenegro, France, and Albania.  

In January 2017, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was also activated following a request for assistance from the government of Chile. The EU supported the national response to the worst forest fires in the history of the country. Three ground forest firefighting modules from Portugal, Spain, and France - the latter under the voluntary pool - were deployed to Chile, along with an EU Civil Prptection team of nine experts.

In addition, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS) regularly produces satellite maps on demand to help national authorities respond to forest fire emergencies. During summer 2017, the Copernicus programme produced 222 maps for six European countries.


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