Fighting forest fires in Europe – how it works

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Every year there are devastating forest fires in Europe, destroying thousands of hectares of forests. The South European countries are at higher risk, but no European country is immune. When the fire gets too big for a country to extinguish it on its own, the European Union's Civil Protection Mechanism can be activated to coordinate the response from participating states.

Joint and coordinated response

When national capacities to respond to forest fires are surpassed, other EU countries often show solidarity by sending assistance in the form of water bombing aircraft, helicopters, fire-fighting equipment and personnel.

The Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) is the emergency response hub of the European Commission. The centre co-ordinates assistance on the European level in the case of disasters and in this way ensures that help is efficient and effective.

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism can also be used to facilitate and co-finance the transport of assistance to the affected area.

Prepared for the forest fire season

The ERCC is actively monitoring the forest fire risk and incidence across Europe. It uses national monitoring services and tools such EFFIS (the European Forest Fire Information System) which provides an overview of data that Member States collect through their national forest fire programmes.

Before the forest fires season, the ERCC organises meetings with all the participating states in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism for an exchange of information on the state of preparedness for the upcoming forest fires season.

Over the summer period, the ERCC organises weekly video conferences with the countries that are at high risk of forest fires and whose national capacities could get overwhelmed. Spain, Croatia, Portugal, Greece, Italy and France are the most fire prone countries in Europe.

In addition, experts from Member States who are seconded to the ERCC every summer contribute to its work and maintain regular contacts with national civil protection authorities.

Tackling forest fires

The European Civil Protection Mechanism was activated 16 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, and in 2013 four. During the past two summers, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Albania, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece and, Portugal activated the Mechanism requesting aerial means. The satellite mapping service has also been activated in response to forest fires related emergencies.

About the EU Civil Protection Mechanism

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism facilitates the cooperation in disaster response among 31 European states (28 EU Member States, FYROM, Iceland and Norway). The participating countries pool the resources that can be made available to disaster-stricken countries all over the world.

Since its launch in 2001, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has monitored over 300 disasters and has received more than 180 requests for assistance. It intervened in some of the most devastating disasters the world has faced, like Hurricane Katrina in the USA (2005), the earthquake in Haiti (2010), the triple-disaster in Japan (2011), and typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines (2013).

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