A new monitoring system to prevent wildfires
As climates become drier, there is an increasing risk of forest fires. The OFIDIA project, a collaboration between Italy’s Apulia region and the Epirus region in north-west Greece, set out to build a cross-border fire prevention infrastructure based on computer-generated forecasting models.
" The project contributes to the protection of the environment and the preservation of natural resources through the OFIDIA environmental monitoring and fire danger forecast platform for Apulia and North-western Greece. By protecting the forests of the Apulia and Epirus regions from wildfires, the project helps achieve a sustainable quality of life and economic prosperity in the cross-border region. "
The cross-border area of Italy and Greece is ecologically diverse, with mountains, coastline and dense hardwood forests. As a result of hot temperatures, drought, negligence and arson, every year the area is ravaged by wildfires. For example, in 2009, the Apulia region saw 4 358 hectares destroyed by 277 different wildfires. In 2010, these numbers increased, with 473 fires destroying a reported 5 020 hectares of forests. In 2011, nearly 1 000 hectares of forest were destroyed by 296 fires in the Province of Lecce alone. Such wildfires spread fast and are thus difficult to contain.
According to researchers with the OFIDIA project, the keys to successfully containing a forest fire are early detection, accurately predicting weather conditions, coordinating ground and aerial firefighting operations and conducting forensic analysis of the causes and damage done. However, this is not always easy, especially in remote forests of Italy and Greece where fire watchtowers and firefighting crews remain unstaffed due to budget constraints. Furthermore, during a firefighting operation, firefighters need easy access to detailed weather forecasts, along with live visual data from the operational area. Yet, also because of budget constraints, the control room of the Ioannina Regional Fire Corps Unit only has a wireless voice link to the operational team and so lacks any visual or digital data about the operational area.
Turning towards technology
Researchers with the OFIDIA project used technology to fill this resource gap. To provide early detection, the system installed automated visual and thermal camera equipment throughout the forested area. This equipment wirelessly transmits information to one of the five state-of-the-art central control rooms that the project established in Lecce, Brindisi, Bari and Ioannina, which then use it to coordinate their individual firefighting operations.
The project also developed an ICT infrastructure that provides online geographical maps with advanced weather forecasts, fire danger indices, and historical information about weather sensors, forecast data, and forest fire incidents. This information allows stakeholders to prepare their operational activities more effectively, ultimately resulting in a reduction in the number of annual wildfires and a subsequent rehabilitation of the natural habitat.
Quality of life benefits
The OFIDIA system not only helps protect the region’s forests from wildfires, it also helps create a sustainable quality of life and economic prosperity in the cross-border region. For example, the detailed weather forecasts generated by the system are made available to the general population, who can use them to better plan their activities and protect themselves from extreme weather conditions. The project has also encouraged closer collaboration between the Italian and Greek civil protection authorities, along with more effective scientific cooperation between the area’s research institutions – all for the benefit of the general public.
Total investment and EU funding
Total investment for the project “Operational Fire Danger Prevention Platform (OFIDIA)” is EUR 1 301 263, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 975 947 through the “Regional Research and Innovation” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period.