Wildfire risk management

Gaining importance at national and European level

Various factors determine the risk of wildfires

Pressing societal challenges such as climate change, social inequality, and ecological degradation are characterized by interactions between natural and socio-economic systems. Likewise, wildfire risk and its management are characterized by complex interdependencies between humans and the environment. For example, climate change is leading to increased prolonged drought and heat in many regions, while forests and vegetation are becoming more susceptible to fire due to drought and pest infestations. Such interaction favours the occurrence of forest and vegetation fires. At the same time, a number of factors are changing that influence wildfire risk. For example, the management of rural areas incl. farming and grazing practices and thus the amount of available fuels is closely linked to urbanization processes and the depopulation of rural regions. Critical infrastructures such as electricity supply or transport can ignite fires (e. g. through sparking) and can be affected themselves, potentially leading to infrastructure disruption and cascading effects. Not least the extreme forest fires in the summer of 2022 have impressively shown how various factors of these can accumulate and lead to huge wildfires (the term "mega fires" is now frequently used in the literature). Also, more and more countries, previously less affected, such as those in Northern Europe, are becoming susceptible. As a result, the topic of wildfire risk management is increasingly in the public focus.  

Complex interplay of different actors

The multitude of factors influencing the risk of wildfires requires the development of complex measures. On the one hand, a wide variety of actors must be involved, such as forestry and agriculture, fire departments, but also infrastructure operators, spatial development, tourism and, last but not least, the population, which often (unintentionally) causes fires itself. Special consideration must be given to potential conflicts that may result from different aims and objectives of the various actors. From a nature conservation perspective, for example, it may make sense to leave forests as untouched as possible, whereas wildfire prevention increasingly relies on controlled fires to reduce the fuel load and thus prevent large fires. At the same time, forest farmers may have yet other interests regarding the treatment of forests. Another example is the European Union (EU) increasingly investing in the acquisition of firefighting aircrafts (rescEU), while experts in forest firefighting point out that "mega fires" in particular cannot be extinguished at all, but must merely burn in a controlled manner as far as possible.

Projects in the field of wildfire risk management

Within the framework of wildfire risk management, efforts are therefore being made at both national and European level to address the multitude of factors both preventively and reactively in a concerted manner. Fraunhofer INT participates/participated in various projects in this context:

  • Concept development of a European wildfire hub to organize both the sharing of resources, such as firefighting aircraft, and knowledge (Tender for DG ECHO).
  • FIRE-IN is a coordination and support action (CSA) and was successfully completed in 2022. The objective was to identify current and future wildland firefighting capability gaps and identify potential solutions. Additionally, recommendations for action were developed with the development of a Fire & Rescue Strategic Research and Standardization Agenda.
  • Firelogue (Cross-sector Wildfire Risk Management Dialogue)  is also a CSA under the European Green Deal that integrates innovations from various largescale wildfire risk management research projects across stakeholders and wildfire risk management phases.
  • Within the TASP-Incubator project quantitative methods for the analysis of science-policy interfaces in the field of wildfire risk management are developed. First results were presented at the IX International Conference on Forrest Fire Research.