Forest fire risk. Activities

Attività Rischio Incendi boschivi

In Italy, the framework law on forest fires (n. 353 of November 21, 2000) entrusts the Regions with the responsibility of forecasting, preventing and actively fighting forest fires, while the State is responsible for contributing to the extinguishing activities with the State's aerial fire-fighting fleet.

The regions are responsible for the activation of operational rooms to allow the operational activation of teams for the extinction of land and regional air assets (usually helicopters) of forest fires, formed by regional personnel, volunteers and firefighters and, where appropriate, the intervention of civil protection. It is also up to the regions to develop and implement regional plans for forecasting, prevention and intervention updated every year.

The Department of Civil Protection, through the COAU - Centro Operativo Aereo Unificato (Unified Aerial Operations Center), is responsible for the coordination of the State's aerial fire-fighting fleet, which consists of Canadair CL-415 and S-64 helicopters owned by the Department of Fire, Public Rescue and Civil Defense, as well as other types of helicopters owned by the Defense Department.

The Coau is continuously active 24 hours a day throughout the year and is the Command and Control Center of all the aircrafts made available for the State's contribution in the forest fire fighting activity, planning and coordinating the flight activities both nationally and internationally.

In the forest fire-fighting activity, the Italian Air Force is in constant contact with the Regional Operations Centers (SOUP) receiving the request for the State air support when the regional forces (teams and helicopters) are not able to cope with the fire.

In order to reduce to a minimum the time necessary to reach the site of operations, it is essential to plan the ground deployment of available air assets. The fire-fighting aircraft and helicopters of the State air fleet are deployed on the territory taking into account the areas at risk and the weather conditions that make the start of forest fires more likely.

As far as prevention activities are concerned, these fall under the competence of the Regions which, therefore, also deal with this sector, involving the subjects in charge of the actual execution of the interventions, such as, for example, the Municipalities for the cleaning of the edges of municipal roads.

The forecasting activity consists in identifying the areas and periods at risk of forest fires, and risk indicators elaborated on the basis of weather and forest conditions, the application of which is fundamental for the planning of prevention and fire-fighting operations.

The forecasting activity, and generally the alert system, relies on the forecast of the risk conditions of possible forest fires and the consequent risk scenarios in rural and wooded areas and in the suburban areas.These activities implemented by the Department and the regional administration include the forecast of possible forest fires.
These activities, implemented by the Department and by the regions through the network of functional centers, are therefore of fundamental importance for the implementation of interventions according to the needs expressed by single territories.

The management of the warning system is ensured by the Department of Civil Protection through the Central Functional Centre and the Forest and Interface Fire Risk Service, which issues a daily bulletin of susceptibility of forest fires risk throughout the country by identifying for each province three levels of danger (low - medium - high). The three levels of danger correspond to three different situations:

  • low risk: the event can be dealt with only by ordinary means and without any particular deployment of forces;
  • medium risk: the event must be managed with a rapid and efficient response from the active fighting system; 
  • high risk: the event may reach such a dimension as to almost certainly require the assistance of the state air fleet.

Forecasts cover both weather and climate conditions, as well as vegetation, physical condition and land use, and the morphology and organization of the territory. The bulletin is limited to a forecast on a provincial scale, estimating the average value of the susceptibility to the outbreak over a period of time useful for the next 24 hours and in trend for the next 48.

The bulletin is provided to Regions and Autonomous Provinces, Prefectures, Carabinieri Forestry and Fire Fighters. Regional decentralized functional centers where the alert system is active can release a bulletin of fire risk susceptibility.

Prevention activities involve measures to help reduce the causes and the potential of fire ignition and interventions to mitigate the damage caused. For this purpose, all systems and devices for monitoring and surveillance of risk areas in general and technology to monitor the area are used.

The activities carry out:

  • actions allocated to the forest, with interventions of proper management of available resources, specific expertise of the Regions;
  • actions addressed to human beings, with training and information to prevent wrong actions and to promote knowledge of the risk and the adoption of rules of correct behavior.

Preventive actions for the forest. Effective firefighting is not possible without proper planning of land management such as:

  • sustainable use of resources;
  • regulation of tourism;
  • maintenance of facilities and infrastructures

To reduce the potential of fire ignition specific interventions in the forestry and the maintenance and cleaning of the forest are also needed: the reduction of biomass fuel, in particular the removal of deadwood, obtaining mixed forest stands and well structured. Where possible, the copses are converted to high forest: changing the form of government of a forest, i.e. the the form of renewal, governed by a forest coppice, ruled in a forest with high trunk.
Other interventions may include the installation of fire resistant species for reduced flammability and combustibility, or actions against the plot (thinning, delimitation of areas with firebreaks ...), of the undergrowth (thinning and removal of shrubs) and herbaceous layer (scrub clearance and cleaning of embankments and roadsides and railways).

Preventive action for people. The human factor is crucial for prevention: the highest percentage of fires in fact is due to improper behavior of man, both voluntary and involuntary.
The action aimed at prevention can be implemented through:

  • control of the territory through a constant monitoring of the action itself and the various human activities, both productive and recreational;
  • the activity of diverse information and awareness on the type of user. Communication campaigns are essential to sensitize and educate citizens to the problem of forest fires and the protection of the forest and to raise awareness of the prohibitions, limitations, and to observe the rules of good behavior in the woods and take measures of self protection taken in the event of fire. Special attention should be given to information in schools, organizing meetings between students and professionals.

As required by the law on forest fires, regions have the task to carry out - according to the guidelines set forth by Ministerial Decree of 20 December 2001 -  plans of regional forecast, prevention and forest fires fight. Plans are for three years and are updated annually. The primary objective of the regional plans is to reduce the wooded areas covered by fire.

Active forest firefighting activities include reconnaissance, surveillance, sighting, alerting and extinguishing by land and air means.

Recon shall be carried out by safeguarding priority objectives during periods of greatest danger, by light aircraft and by adequately equipped ground teams.

Intensive and continuous surveillance activities, with teams in charge of controlling the territory, with fixed monitoring systems and a lookout network distributed throughout the territory are carried out in areas of particular value or at high risk.

The sighting is conducted from the ground (with mobile teams on the territory and fixed lookouts), by plane and also with fixed automatic sighting systems (infrared sensors, cameras...).

The alarm reaches the designated advice centers  by the reconnaissance-surveillance-visit services’ operators but also by the spontaneous reporting of private citizens through the 1515 number.

In compliance with regional plans, land-based firefighting intervention teams of specialized operators are deployed throughout the territory. On a special map are listed the priority objectives to defend and the territorial competence area of each team. When necessary, the teams can also be deployed in other areas. A coordinator of the operations is identified for each territorial area. The ground teams, are constantly in direct contact with the operational centers, and can also help in the phases of reconnaissance-visit-surveillance. The teams' staff may be involved in forest fire risk prevention activities also during non- risk periods.

The fire-fighting can be conducted either from the ground or by aircraft. In case of fire, the first to intervene are the ground teams coordinated by the Regions and composed of regional staff or by operators of the National Fire Fighters, Carabinieri, Armed Forces, State Police Forces and forest fire-fighting volunteers.

The 2008 Framework Agreement signed by the Department of Fire Brigades, Public Emergency and Civil Defence and the State Forestry Corps defines the areas and organizational models of intervention in the event of fire. In the case of a forest fire, when the protection of vegetation and the environment prevails, the Forestry Corps coordinate the operations, while the National Fire Fighters department manage the interventions for protection of civil and industrial settlements, infrastructures and people in the affected areas. In case of interface fires, the priority is to safeguard human lives and civil infrastructure. Here, the National Fire Fighters Department directs and coordinates the operations. When a fire is particularly extended affecting both forest and urban system, the intervention of both bodies is required. They coordinate the interventions accordingly with their respective professional skills. The coordination is carried out through the Soup - Permanent Unified Operating Rooms.

To extinguish a fire, various means and techniques are used to interrupt the combustion process by removing oxygen or lowering the temperature:

  • In case of a fire at the initial stage, flames can be extinguished with special tools, covering them with soil or using water or chemical products (extinguishing agents or retardants);
  • In case of an extended fire, a line with no vegetation is built in front of the fire, possibly near a natural interruption in order to reduce the intensity of the flames and intervene with a direct attack.

In case of a wide fire and if the intervention of ground teams is not sufficient, who manages the operations can ask for the intervention of the aircrafts provided by the Regions (especially helicopters) and, if not sufficient, they can also ask the intervention of the State air fleet coordinated by the Coau - Unified Air Operations Centre.

Regions organize fire-fighting activities through a regional plan and ensure the coordination of their fire-fighting structures with State’s structures  through the Soup: the permanent unified Operations Room that ensures the connection and coordination at regional and local levels, manages the intervention of regional aircrafts and the request of state aircrafts. During the periods in which the fire risk is high, Soup are constantly active and in contact with the operational structures involved in the interventions.

The Civil Protection Department guarantee and coordinates, through the Coau - Unified Air Operations Centre the aircraft activities of fire extinguishment  with the State’s firefighting s aircraft.

The Coau is active non-stop 24 hours a day for the entire year. It is the command and control center for all the aircraft available for civil protection activities, it also coordinates flight activities both nationally and internationally. During the forest fire-fighting activity it is constantly in contact with the Regional Operations Centers and the Soup of all the Regions. In order to reduce the time required to reach the operation site, it is fundamental to schedule the dislocations of the available aircrafts on the ground. The State air fleet's fire-fighting planes and helicopters are deployed on the territory taking into account the risk areas and the weather conditions favoring the ignition of forest fires.  Every point in the country can be reached within 60/90 minutes after take-off.

The Aib forest fire-fighting campaign. Every year, as provided for by Law 152/2005, the Prime Minister defines the timing of the winter and summer AIB campaign and issues operational guidelines to take all necessary initiatives to prevent and manage forest fires. The indications are addressed to Regions and to the Ministries of Interior, Defense, Agriculture, Environment, Infrastructure and Transport and to the Ministry for relations with the Regions.

Annually, the Civil Protection Department, which coordinates State's air fleet, defines the procedures for the application for air competition by the Regions and Autonomous Provinces.