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rescEU put into practice!…partially.

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.”

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"We need wildfire prevention rather than fire suppression" – EFI-expert responds to EU's new rescEU plan

The European summer of 2017 had unprecedented amounts of natural disasters happening simultaneously, such as devastating forest fires in Portugal, immense storms in Germany and…

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Der tote Taucher im Wald – Gedanken zur Feuerbekämpfung aus der Luft

Vielleicht erinnert sich noch der ein oder andere an den Tatort „Der tote Taucher im Wald“. Ein Löschflugzeug schöpft Wasser, ein Taucher landet in einem Waldbrand…Die gegenwärtige Diskussion über Löschflugzeuge in Deutschland erinnerte mich jedenfalls daran.

Während wir schon jetzt bis August 2019 teilweise überraschende Ausmaße der Waldbrände feststellen müssen, wird kontrovers über den Umgang mit Feuer und den möglichen Löschmöglichkeiten diskutiert. Auch wir haben uns zum Thema integriertes Feuermanagement hier auf diesem Blog hinreichend geäußert und wollen nun auch zur Diskussion über Löschflugzeuge beitragen, im Folgenden ein paar Gedanken.

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Springtime in flames

and Alexander Held

What had already been predicted in 2018, became true.

Spring is too warm and too dry, again. The year 2019 had a hot start: during the first four months, more areas have been burned than during the entire 2018 across Europe. The Joint Research Centre’s European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) of the EU Science Hub recorded 1233 fires corresponding to a burned area of more than 250 000 ha by the end of April. In comparison, there were 1192 fires burning 181 000 ha during the whole 2018.

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A Call from the US for the European Forest Risk Facility?

I was in Barcelona on Monday 11 February to participate in the EFIMED event Facing Forest Fires with EU Commissioner Christos Stylianides. The Commissioner explained his rescEU plan aiming at improving the European system to tackle natural disasters in more detail. Immediately, my earlier thoughts on this plan came back to mind: I still think rescEU might have the wrong focus, and we should allocate resources towards wildfire prevention rather than fire suppression.

Stylianides’ speech was followed by four contributions from science, practice and also the policy level. They all had a clear message, that coincides with our European Forest Risk Facility‘s vision (resilient landscapes – adapted communities – adequate response): Instead of more fire fighting aircraft (which is part of rescEU) emphasize must be given to landscape- and forest management, i.e. managing the fuel load, fuel availability, and fuel characteristics to enable safe and effective fire management. Often, this fuel management is addressed through the use of prescribed fire, especially in the Mediterranean.

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Fighting fire by the book

Euronews featured a comprehensive article with interviews from our European Forest Risk Facility experts, Alexander Held (EFI) and Marc Castellnou (Pau Costa Foundation) on how to tackle wildfires, aiming at summarizing the lessons learned of fighting wildfires.
Castellnou emphasizes that all the related research helps them predict how the fire will develop and make an effective use of resources. Held explains the three main factors to consider when assessing a fire: wind, terrain and the direction of the blaze. He then elaborates on dry firefighting tactics for preventing the fire to spread, such as digging channels along the flanks of the blaze and removing vegetation with prescribed burns.

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Germany dried up and on fire

A very sunny June 2018 was also a very dry June! And I mean dry:
The sunshine duration in June with about 215 hours of sunshine reached 108 percent of the target of 198 hours. Persistent drought in the northeast, severe thunderstorms in the southwest:
At around 50 l / m², June reached only 57 percent of its target nationwide (85 l / m²). The month was very poor in Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt, which had already been part of the drought affected areas in May. In Wittenberg for instance, from April 27 to June 20,  only 0.9 l / m² were recorded. The drought had a catastrophic effect, because in addition to numerous wildfires, agriculture and forestry is already suffering enormous drought related damage.

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Cui bono? – Discussing aerial forest firefighting

A rough estimate of (business) interest in aerial firefighting
In general, only 10% of a fire management budget is spent on fuel load management for prevention and 90 % are spent on fire suppression. In these 90% the majority again is dedicated to aerial assets. This article would like to stimulate a reflection on how to create more balance in the use of fire management budget. 
This compilation of thoughts on the monetary benefits of aerial firefighting is not intended to be conclusive, but rather a suggestion –  a suggestion that hopefully provokes further conversation among diverse stakeholders about how the urgently needed balance between fire suppression (response) and land- and forest management (prevention, mitigation, resilience) can be reached.
This short text does clearly not intend to say we do not need aerial firefighting. Of course we need any support that we can get while fighting unwanted fires. The intention however is to motivate equivalent political will and budget for prevention and mitigation, for increasing the resilience of the land and to make firefighting safer and more effective.

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