Two National Guardsmen walk among the debris from the wildfire near Seglingsberg in central Sweden.
©European Pressphoto Agency
One man has died in the fire that started Thursday 31 July and around 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes on 4 August, mainly from smaller hamlets, as Sweden’s largest fire in more than 40 years spread amid a heat wave across Northern Europe that hampered firefighting efforts.
Every year forest fires destroy thousands of hectares of forests in Europe. No European country is inure to forest fire, though South European countries are at higher risk. When a country can’t stand a forest fire on its own, the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism can be activited to coordinate the response from participating states. Few days ago, Sweden experienced the help of France and Italy that sent four planes, specialised in fighting forest fires, to damp water in the area.
Joint and coordinated response
When a country cannot give an appropriate answer to forest fires due to a lack of national capacities, other EU countries can show solidarity by sending assistance in the form of water bombing aircraft, helicopters, fire-fighting equipment and human resources.
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. In addition, 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 monitors 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
Over the last three summers, the European Civil Protection Mechanism was activated 16 times to help and fight forest fires in and out of Europe. Solely for 2012 nine requests for assistance were received whilst 4 were issued in 2013. Bulgaria, Montenegro, Albania, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece and, Portugal activated the Mechanism requesting aerial means the past two years. The satellite mapping service has also been activated in response to forest fires related emergencies.
Through the ENHANCE project, partners offer particular insights to Portugal with in-depth risk assessments tools, and analyse economic instruments and strategies for forest management whilst strengthening partnerships to better fight forest fires. The results coming out of the ENHANCE project for the Portugal will be useful for other countries facing forest fires in Europe.
Note to readers:
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).
More information is available on the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection website.