The current heat wave does not only create a feeling of summer holidays but above all, it puts fire and rescue services as well as foresters on constant alert.
At the same time, the rescEU plan is getting into its next phase, which is good news. RescEU is the common European response to disasters by strengthening the EU’s collective ability to react.
Especially in consideration of the high risks of forest fires, the Commission has launched the first fleet of firefighting aircraft under the new rescEU systems, consisting of two aircraft from Croatia, one aircraft from France, two aircraft from Italy, two aircrafts from Spain, and six helicopters from Sweden. The Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides stated: “With rescEU, we have put words into action. We have delivered a practical tool for citizens that can save thousands of lives in the future. RescEU means having a much stronger, pan-European civil protection system.”
The Commission is working together with the participating countries to add extra assets in the coming weeks to ensure that Europe is best prepared for the fire season. The new legislation will include a transition phase during which participating states can get funding in exchange for putting their firefighting means at the disposal of the EU. This pan-European approach is the (reactive) answer to numerous disasters that have affected all regions of Europe in recent years, causing billions in damage to infrastructure and destruction and further massive damages for natural ecosystems.
This initiative further aims to streamline and simplify administrative procedures in order to reduce the time needed to deploy life-saving assistance. Fire experts have stated several times that the annual burned area 2019 is already exceeding the 2018 burned area in Europe and 2018 was a devastating year for forests.
Now, back when the initial rescEU plan was published, I raised some concerns. I was worried that despite the fact that prevention is mentioned in the description of the rescEU plan, in reality, most of the attention and budget will flow into fire suppression. Therefore, I voted for equal funding for preventive measures in climate-smart and fire-smart-forestry, agriculture and to promote tools like prescribed burning on a much larger scale. I note with regret, that according to the latest news that has been released on rescEU, my concerns were not unfounded.
While water bombers and helicopters make the headlines, you will not find any news on tools on prevention or mitigation. So far, the programme is lacking a deeper coordinated planning, pan-European education, the assessment of risks, and a harmonized planning on a landscape scale across Europe.
Let me make this very clear: We need well-equipped and well-trained fire suppression resources! With the number of fires we have experienced lately and will in the future, we are happy to be able to react with less bureaucracy and support each other with the best equipment possible, not thinking about borders!
But the effectiveness and safety of firefighters will be dramatically increased if they could operate in a well-managed landscape, in a more resilient landscape. That’s why we have to promote the investment in land management, sustainable forestry and the use of “friendly fire” as a preventive tool.
In that context, I would like to highlight the importance of meetings such as the EoE Forest that took place in Mafra, Portugal just a couple of weeks ago (More information you can find here). Participants from seven countries trained and worked together on planning and careful application of preventive mild and low intensity prescribed fire to prevent disaster fire. Activities like this are supported by the individual participant’s interest, in this particular case by the County of Mafra and also by the European Forest Institute’s SURE project. Platforms like this are essential to exchange experiences and profound knowledge!
For more information:
-Official Press Release by the EU Commission: Questions and answers – EU that protects:
–Blogpost from May, 23, 2019: Springtime in Flames
–Statement on RescEU by Alexander Held (November, 2017)
Photo credit: European Commission