Brussels, 11 Aug 2005
The Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), together with the Directorate General for Environment, is helping Member States to control forest fires by forecasting risks through the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).
The EU's Mediterranean region has witnessed an increase in forest fires in recent years, and in 2003 the total area burnt was 740,000 hectares - almost three times the area of Luxembourg. Some 70,000 fires have already been recorded in 2005 alone, with 19 people having lost their lives, and the outlook for the rest of the year is poor.
The EFFIS network includes representatives from 19 countries, and together with the Commission and fire services in the Member States, it has just published a comprehensive overview of the impact of forest fires in Europe for 2004, as well as issuing a fire risk forecast for 2005.
The outlook for the current year already looks bad - fire risk levels in the Mediterranean in June were already above those recorded for 2003 and 2004. Persistent drought has led to the accumulation of dry masses of easily ignitable fuels on the ground, and fire behaviour has changed from traditional fire spread to surging forest fires.
Through the EFFIS, the Commission is able to share information between Member States, for example by providing them with satellite imagery to facilitate the analysis of fires and their effects on forests and specially protected sites. The Commission is also currently fine-tuning technology to provide information on droughts in Europe. For example, last winter soil moisture conditions were far drier than average. Having such information will improve forest fire prediction capabilities.
In a statement, the Commission pledged to 'continue to support its Member States during the remaining 2005 fire season and facilitate international collaboration in forest fire prevention and control in Europe.'
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