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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Forest fires: 3 ways the EU is preparing for this year’s season

With early heat waves across Southern Europe and major fires raging in Spain, the 2022 forest fires season is taking off with a jump start.

On 6 June, Albania already activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism in response to a forest fire on the island of Sazan, and more requests for assistance are likely to come.

Building on the lessons learned from last year, the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre is scaling up preparedness for what is likely to become another challenging summer.

Forest fires: 3 ways the EU is preparing for this year’s season 01
In August 2021, Greece activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to launch the largest firefighting operation throughout its 20 years of existence. The EU-coordinated firefighting operation helped Greece tackle forest fires active in various locations.
© Hellenic Fire Corps, 2021 (photographer: George Chionidis)

Forest fires pose a significant disaster risk to the whole of Europe as well as to other parts of the world. They damage ecosystems, destroy woodlands and devastate the lives of many Europeans.

Over the past years, fires have ravaged forests and ruined protected sites across the European Union.

But how does the EU prepare for this year’s forest fire season? Our support is focused on 3 pillars:

1. Firefighting planes and helicopters on standby to support national efforts

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© European Union 2021 (photographer: Sotiris Dimitropoulos)

A quick mobilisation of shared EU planes and helicopters, coordinated by the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) and financed by the EU, have become key to Member States and neighbouring countries preparedness to deal with increasingly large and unpredictable fires.

This summer, the ERCC coordinates and finances the availability of firefighting planes and helicopters which are part of the rescEU fleet:

  • 10 medium firefighting planes located in Croatia (2x), France (2x), Greece (2x), Italy (2x) and Spain (2x)
  • 1 heavy helicopter located in Greece
  • 2 light firefighting planes located in Sweden.

Additional 4 medium firefighting planes from France and Greece can be mobilised under the European Civil Protection Pool.

These assets complement ad hoc offers from Member States under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

2. Prepositioning 200 firefighters and vehicles in Greece

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© European Union 2021 (photographer: Sotiris Dimitropoulos)

In addition to the rescEU fleet, the EU facilitates and finances the prepositioning of firefighters and ground vehicles to Greece.

During July and August, about 200 firefighters from other EU countries will be positioned in the country and work side by side with Greek fire brigades.

These EU firefighters come from Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Romania and Norway.

3. Coordinating our pan-European response

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© State Fire Service of Poland, 2021 (photographer: Piotr Zwarycz)

The Centre maintains close relations to all EU countries affected by forest fires to exchange information and alerts and to ensure a swift response – whenever needed.

These meetings ensure an important exchange of detailed information on the state of preparedness and fire risks.

And when an emergency overwhelms the response capabilities of these countries, they can launch the joint European disaster response with just a few clicks.

Having a well-coordinated response also means that national authorities have only one point of contact rather than multiple to deal with.

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© Greek civil protection, 2021

Looking into the future

The seasonal EU firefighting support is based on a yearly configuration of resources to support other European countries in an emergency.

A more permanent solution to increase Europe’s ability to respond to the effects of climate change – and expected more extreme forest fires – is to purchase additional firefighting planes under the rescEU programme.

For this, the EU has recently achieved a breakthrough in the negotiation with a renowned airplane manufacturer.

The company will launch the production of medium amphibious planes for the use in our Member States. Pending the positive outcome of these negotiations, the EU will fully fund these brand-new airplanes to increase the overall preparedness of our continent.

Until the first EU planes are delivered over the next years, the EU continues to ensure that a yearly rescEU fleet will be ready to be deployed whenever forest fires spiral out of control.  

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© European Union 2021 (photographer: Sotiris Dimitropoulos)

Story by Francesco Pontiroli Gobbi, Claire Kowalewski and Joao Silva. Edited by Tim Gillmair and Jaime Camacho Garcia, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

Publication date: 22/06/2022