'Lucifer' heatwave: Commission triggers EU civil protection mechanism in Italy

Written by Martin Banks on 8 August 2017 in News

The European Commission joined in the international response to forest fires that are still raging in parts of Europe.

Forest fires are raging in Italy (pictured) and other parts of Europe | Photo credit: Press Association

Swathes of southern and eastern Europe sweltered in temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) at the weekend in a heat wave nicknamed 'Lucifer' that has fanned forest fires, triggered weather warning alerts and damaged crops.

Italy and the Balkans were worst affected, though areas as far north as southern Poland also basked in abnormally hot temperatures.

On Tuesday, the Commission announced that it had helped mobilise three aircraft, including a reconnaissance plane, through the EU's civil protection mechanism, following a request for assistance from Italy to battle forest fires in the country.

In addition, the EU's emergency mapping system is also helping the Italian civil protection authorities.

European Commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management Christos Stylianides said, "The EU has provided immediate assistance to Italy, following a request for help. Three planes from France will operate in Italy."

He added, "This support is through the EU's civil protection mechanism and shows the value of having a European response to natural disasters. The planes will work alongside the Italian civil protection putting EU solidarity into action."

It is the second time this summer that Italy has activated the EU civil protection mechanism for forest fires. The Commission said its 24/7 emergency response coordination centre is "closely monitoring the situation in Italy and the forest fire risk across Europe."

In June, Portugal declared three days of mourning for the 62 victims of one of the country's deadliest forest fires.

Four children were among the victims, many of whom were found dead inside their cars as they tried to flee the central forested region of Pedrógão Grande.

With temperatures were expected to stay around 40 degrees Celsius into next week, authorities advised people to increase their water intake and Red Cross volunteers across Europe visited the homeless and elderly and other people at risk.

"This prolonged period of extremely hot weather is particularly dangerous for people with existing health problems such as heart conditions, high blood pressure and asthma, as well as older people and children," said Jeya Kulasingam, health coordinator for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Europe.

Meanwhile, Marc Palahí, Director of the European Forest Institute (EFI), said lessons must be learnt from recent events.

"Each summer we hear terrible news about forest fires from world fire prone areas, a trend that has continued this year with the tragic news from Portugal, France and the US, among others.

"Unfortunately, more are expected to come. It is clear that the urgency lies with combatting the fires and providing help to local communities, but once the crisis is past, policymakers need to put forward science-informed policies to address the root causes of forest fires."

The Institute says action must be taken to address the issue in the Mediterranean region and advocates for a "new vision based on shifting the focus from reactive fire suppression to long-term proactive fire prevention and forest management."

In a statement, it said, "The risk of forest fires in the Mediterranean region is outpacing fire suppression capabilities, despite the billions of euros invested."

It went on, "In the past, the focus has been on fire suppression rather than on long-term strategies for fire prevention.

"Now, we need a new vision where the focus is shifted from fire suppression to fire prevention and forest management: managing our forests to be more resilient to climate change."

It says that developing a Mediterranean bioeconomy can provide the incentives and investments needed for forest owners to address the risk of forest fires.


About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine


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