EU projects set out forest fire recommendations

2007 will go down as a record year for forest fires in Greece. In the last week of August alone, some 180,000 hectares of land went up in smoke, over 60 people died and hundreds of homes were destroyed. The worst hit areas were Peloponnes, Euboea and Athens.

Now the partners of the European PREVIEW and RISKEOS projects have analysed the devastating events of the summer. The report looks at the tools and services developed by the projects, some of which were trialled in Greece during the fires. It also comes up with a set of recommendations on how preparedness for and response to such fires could be improved in the future.

The PREVIEW project is funded by the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) as part of GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security). The project aims to develop information services for hazard and vulnerability mapping, risk monitoring, forecasting and awareness and damage assessments for a range of disasters, including floods, storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, man-made disasters and, of course, fires.

The RISKEOS project is part of the GMES Service Element Programme and is financed by the European Space Agency (ESA). It provides geo-information services to stakeholders involved in the management of floods, fires and other disasters.

Both projects have developed tools, some of which were tested in Greece during and after the fires. For example, PREVIEW has developed Fire Danger Indexes which use weather observations and forecasts together with Earth observation data to create fire risk maps showing the likelihood of a fire within 24 hours (summer) or 72 hours (winter).

The Fire Monitoring pilot service offers near real-time monitoring of on-going fires at medium resolution. The Assets Mapping pilot service integrates socio-economic information onto Earth observation-derived products to reveal the direct consequences of a natural disaster on populations and assets.

Meanwhile the RISKEOS project has developed a rapid mapping pilot service, which provides fire extent and impact maps within a week of the event. This service is designed to be complementary to the Burnt Scar Mapping, which provides a high resolution map of burn scars after the summer and winter fire seasons.

The analysis also looks at the use of the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters. This service gathers together Earth observation data and makes them available to those affected by natural or man-made disasters.

‘One of the key lessons of the 2007 Greek fires is the lengthy delay which was necessary to trigger the Charter as the fire situation worsened,’ the project partners state. ‘Map diffusion also suffered strongly from the complicated triggering process. As a consequence, only Greek users finally had access to high resolution products, no diffusion was organised toward the numerous members of the foreign rescue teams.’

The researchers recommend the establishment of an ‘early activation’ mechanism for the charter. While this could result in a small number of false activations, it would drastically cut the response time.

Furthermore, they call for the routine acquisition of high resolution images in order to build a comprehensive reference database. This will allow high-risk areas to be identified well in advance.

The experience and recommendations obtained from these pilot projects will be useful in preparing the implementation phase of Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security (GMES) services. GMES is a European initiative for the implementation of information services dealing with environment and security. It will be based on observation data received from Earth Observation satellites and ground based information with the aim of providing policy-makers and other end-users with autonomous and independent access to information. The progressive implementation of GMES is made possible by the activities and investments of European Union and European Space Agency (ESA) Member States.

Author: EARSC

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