The European Space Agency (ESA) is backing a new Earth observation project aimed at monitoring European forest fire damage and identifying the areas most vulnerable to future outbreaks. As part of a joint ESA-European Commission initiative to establish an independent European capacity for environmental monitoring, the project will establish a standardised European method of recording fire damage and enable the sharing of information on forest fires and fire risks.
In 2003, over half a million hectares of woodland were ruined by forest fires across Mediterranean Europe. According to European Commission estimates, every hectare of forest lost to fire costs the EU between 1,000 and 5,000 euro. Woodland fires tend to burn with a core heat of almost 800 degrees Celsius, bringing rapid and devastating changes to the landscape. The fires then leave ‘burn scars’ that can be seen from space as a ‘specific reddish-brown spectral signature’ .The project will therefore employ satellite imagery to detect the burn scars within fire-prone regions of south-western France, the Puglia and March regions of Italy and the whole of Spain.