What is it?
Wildfires are uncontrolled fires that occur in nature and are often harshened by climatic conditions. Long dry spells particularly increase the risk of wildfires breaking out, but other factors also have a huge impact, such as rain and wind, vegetation, the layout of the terrain, and forest management practices.
2022 was a record-breaking year, with one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in the EU. Wildfires also severely affected North-West America, Siberia, South Asia, as well as many other regions around the world. Lives were lost, livelihoods destroyed, and many hectares of land burnt.
For 2023, the EU has reinforced its rescEU firefighting fleet (firefighting planes and helicopters) as well as prepositioned hundreds of firefighters for immediate support. So far this year, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has been activated 7 times to respond to wildfires in the Mediterranean, Chile, and Canada.
Why is this important?
The fire risk is expected to further increase due to climate change. The season will be increasingly characterised by massive fires that cost lives and burn areas that take longer to fully recover. Between 2007 and 2021, over 17% of all requests for assistance through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism were in response to wildfires.
Wildfires have recently become a pan-European concern. Although France, Spain and Portugal were particularly hit last summer, major fires also took place in Czechia, Germany, Greece, and Slovenia, to name a few.
In total, 20 EU Member States recorded more burned areas than average in 2022. The wildfire risk expanded to areas that have not previously been exposed, moving well beyond the Mediterranean region. This causes huge societal, environmental, climate and economic losses across Europe.
In 2022, the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) channelled assistance to Czechia, France, Germany, Portugal, Slovenia and Albania, with 33 planes and 8 helicopters deployed and over 1,500 firefighters on the ground.
Furthermore, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS) regularly produces satellite maps on demand to help national authorities respond to wildfires. In the same year, Copernicus produced 328 maps of areas affected by wildfires across the globe.
As of August, both the number of fires and the EU’s burnt area in 2023 are already above average.
How are we helping?
The EU Civil Protection Mechanism coordinates pan-European assistance and ensures that all EU Member States and participating states to the Mechanism receive timely information in times of crises and emergencies. Upon its activation by any country worldwide, the Mechanism ensures the rapid deployment of resources and personnel that are tailor-made to fit the needs of each emergency.
At the operational heart of the Mechanism lies the European Commission's Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC). The Centre monitors wildfire risks and emergencies across Europe, supported by national and European monitoring services such as the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).
At the onset of the wildfire season each year, the Centre engages with national authorities from EU Member States and participating states. The aim is to exchange information on the status of prevention, preparedness and response activities and maintains close contact with national authorities throughout the wildfire season.
When national response resources are overwhelmed by fire intensity, countries can activate the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. They can ask for a coordinated, rapid and effective international response.
When fires of such magnitude occur, Member States and participating states in the Mechanism regularly show solidarity by sending assistance in the form of firefighting planes, helicopters, firefighting equipment, and teams.
Additionally, the Mechanism can co-finance the transport of assistance to the affected area as well as operational costs.
Preparing for the 2023 wildfire season
Since 2019, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has been reinforced with the rescEU fleet, an European reserve that includes firefighting planes and helicopters and is 100% financed by the EU. The EU also co-finances the stand-by availability of additional aerial firefighting capacities to address potential shortcomings in responding to fires.
For the 2023 wildfire season, Cyprus, Czechia, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Portugal and Sweden put together 24 firefighting planes and 4 helicopters at the disposal of other EU Member States in case of an emergency.
These are twice as many resources when compared to the 2022 rescEU fleet.
In addition, more than 400 firefighters are pre-positioned in France, Greece and Portugal coming from11 different EU countries.
Furthermore, the European Civil Protection Pool counts with 4 firefighting planes, 13 ground firefighting teams, and 2 teams of experts.
In addition to the response, the EU supports and complements prevention and preparedness efforts of these States by focusing on areas where a joint European approach is more effective than separate national actions. These include risk assessments to identify the disaster risks across the EU, encouraging research to promote disaster resilience and reinforcing early warning tools.
Prevention, preparedness and response work hand in hand to save human lives and limit the further spread of fires. Having experienced wildfire experts, well-trained firefighters, technology, and other assets available near the location of action makes a difference.
While the national and regional authorities of these States manage wildfire prevention, preparedness and response activities, the EU can co-finance and coordinate further support when needed.
Operations in 2023
As of 22 August, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has been activated 7 times for wildfires:
- Chile on 5 February
- Canada on 8 June
- Greece on 8 July and 20 August
- Tunisia on 24 July
- Italy on 25 July
- Cyprus on 6 August
In response, the EU has deployed 20 firefighting planes and over 660 firefighters to tackle the fires across the affected countries. We stand ready to provide further assistance if requested.
Operations in 2022
- 17 July to 26 July 2022Slovenia activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
The ERCC mobilised one rescEU Canadair from Croatia, while 5 helicopters were deployed from Croatia, Austria, Slovakia and Serbia.
Romania deployed 3 other firefighting planes and 1 ground firefighting team was deployed from Croatia.
- 26 July to 15 August 2022Czechia activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to fight wildfires
The EU’s response included 2 rescEU Canadairs from Italy, 2 rescEU Fire Boss from Sweden, 2 helicopters from Slovakia, and 1 helicopter from Poland.
Slovakia also offered a support team with a water tank used to refill helicopters.
- 9 August to 26 August 2022France activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism
The ERCC mobilised rescEU firefighting planes hosted by Sweden, Greece and Italy.
France also received ground firefighting teams from Poland, Germany, Austria and Romania.
- 19 August 2022Portugal placed a request for assistance for prepositioning of planes
Greece prepositioned 2 Canadairs from the EU Civil Protection Pool between 21 and 28 August due to high risk.
The planes returned to Greece on 29 August.
- 4 September 2022Germany activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism
The EU’s response included 2 rescEU Canadairs from Italy that operated from 5 to 8 September.
More than 200 firefighters from Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Romania and Norway were positioned in Greece to allow for immediate support to Greek first responders in case of large wildfires.
Together with the Greek Fire Service, they did trainings, exercises and knowledge sharing activities. They also participated in several fire interventions. Fortunately, during the season, no major fire incidents occurred.
Last updated: 22/08/2023
Facts & figures
Wildfires affect all European Union territories, from north to south, east to west
Wildfire prevention, preparedness and response activities are closely intertwined
Upon request, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism helps to coordinate rapid support for wildfires
The rescEU firefighting fleet boosts the EU’s ability to prepare for and respond to wildfires