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Forest fires threaten Europe’s nature as world suffers worst year on record

31.10.2020

Forest fires threaten Europe’s nature as world suffers worst year on record

On 30 October,  the European Commission publishes the 20th edition of its Annual Report on Forest Fires in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, covering 2019.

Source: European Commission

Key findings

In Europe, 2019 was a year when:

  • Wildfires heavily affected Europe’s network of ‘Natura 2000’ protected areas. With 159,585 ha burnt in 2019, nearly half of the total burnt area in the EU occurred within these key biodiversity zones. While some of these fires occur naturally, the vast majority are caused by humans and endanger these ecosystems;
  • According to the European Forest Fires Information System (EFFIS), Romania (242 fires, 73,444 ha burnt area) was the country with the greatest damage to its protected areas in the Natura 2000 network. This was mostly due to some very large fires in the Danube delta;
  • National reporting from countries showed that Spain, Portugal and Poland recorded 10883, 10832 and 9635 fires in 2019, more than any other EU countries;
  • Due to better preparedness and more efficient response, the 2019 season was one of the best ever in terms of preventing accidents and loss of life.  Only three casualties occurred due to wildfires in the countries included in the 2019 report. In terms of burnt area, there were also less devastating fires in Europe than those occurring in 2017 and 2018;
  • The on-demand Rapid Mapping of the Copernicus Emergency Management  Service was activated 35 times to help countries respond to wildfires in 2019, the most activations in any single year so far. The service provides on-demand and fast maps to support emergency management activities immediately following fires, floods and other emergencies;
  • The EU Civil Protection Mechanism was activated five times for forest fire emergencies in 2019, in Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Bolivia and Guatemala. The Mechanism was upgraded in March 2019 to establish a new European reserve of capacities (the ‘rescEU reserve’) which includes firefighting planes and helicopters. A very first activation of rescEU took place in August 2019, to fight the forest fires on the Greek island of Evia.

Monitoring and responding to fires:

  • The Copernicus Emergency Management Service, through the European Forest Fires Information System (EFFIS), provides continuous support to EU countries in early warning and monitoring of the fires. In 2019, this was extended to the monitoring of wildfires at the global level through the Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS).
  • The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) runs EFFIS under Copernicus, the EU’s earth observation program. EFFIS provides a continuous monitoring of active fires and burnt areas in Europe, Middle East and North Africa, supporting the activities of the European Commission’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre.

In 2019, within the EU Civil Protection Mechanism framework, the Commission implemented new features to improve fire monitoring and early warning, including the development of the EFFIS Decision Support System. It compares the criticality of all ongoing fires in Europe to support decision making at the European Commission’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre.

Further information: HERE