The incidence of forest fires has greatly increased in the last few decades in Hungary. This is due to climate extremes, less precipitation, the increase of mean annual temperature and a series of winters without snowfall. As a result, the period of risk of fire has extended. Not only has the frequency of fires increased,but also their intensity and the speed at which they spread. This was especially true during the extremely hot summers of recent years. A larger area is burnt in these intense forest fires, as they are more difficult to extinguish. Fires are having an increased negative impact on vegetation, as well as on forest structure.
The overall objective of FIRELIFE was to enhance effective, proactive and continuous forest fire prevention in Hungary. The project aimed to provide targeted information and messages on the basis of an up-to-date communication framework plan, with target groups also involved through personal contact. As 99% of forest fires are caused by human activity in Hungary, targetedand instant communication can effectively cut the number of forest fires. The aim was to organise training courses for teachers, social workers and farmstead caretakers, as well as for forest fire prevention experts (foresters, conservationists, firefighters). The courses were designed to build relationships and improve inter-agency cooperation on forest fire prevention.
The FIRELIFE project achieved its objectives of enhancing effective, proactive and continuous forest fire prevention in Hungary, through the establishment of the Hungarian Forest Fire Prevention Communication Programme.
In particular, the project beneficiary printed and distributed 250 000 leaflets and information sheets, 5 000 000 brochures and flyers containing forest fire information, and published 36 500 educational storybooks. A total of 31 TV and 11 radio interviews were given, which reached 2 million people. In addition, 25 articles on forest fire prevention were published, which were cited on 875 different online platforms.
Project personnel contacted 59 000 people directly and participated in 60 events (117 event days in total). Approximately 32 000 children completed the projects adventure trail, an innovative forest fire prevention tool, and 2 000 information signs and 73 000 posters were seen by around 1.5 million people. 950 officials attended training sessions organised during the project.
The large volume of information materials and dissemination activities conducted by the project resulted in 82% of the Hungarian population hearing about forest fires during the project period. The main fire prevention messages communicated included: 99% of wildfires in Hungary are caused by humans; Restoration takes 100 years; Helping hands are YOURS; Protect forests, keep the butt! (aimed at smokers); and Each euro spent on professional forest fire prevention is worth 100.
The number of forest fires and the size of areas burnt in forest fires decreased in Hungary as a result of the project. There was a steep decrease in the size of the burnt area per fire. In 2012 the average was 5 hectares/forest fire, while in 2018 it was only 1 hectare/forest fire. During the spring fire season from 2012 to 2018 the number of fires per fire danger days decreased by 30%, while the area burnt dropped by 70%. During the summer fire season, a decreasing trend is clearly visible from the intensity ratios, both in respect of the number of fires and the burnt area. The former shows a decrease of 30%, while the latter dropped by 90%. The beneficiary improved the fire prohibition system in Hungary, for example, through better inter-agency cooperation. It now operates more flexibly and faster, using forest fire indices calculated by the EUs Joint Research Centre (JRC). Daily updated fire-prevention maps are placed on the projects website, where related leaflets can also be accessed.
The beneficiary provided a checklist for developing fire-prevention systems, tools and innovative methods for stakeholder involvement, all of which are replicable and useful for other countries with forest fire problems.
Forest fire prevention contributes to the realisation of national and EU policy objectives, including the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive due to the negative impacts that fires can have on habitats and species.
The project decreased the number of vegetation and forest fires. This results in savings in fire-fighting costs and also in savings in habitat restoration costs. Prevention is significantly cheaper than fighting forest fires. The costs of reconstruction can be double the costs of prevention. In the case of forest fires, the products of forestry are wasted. Furthermore, the recreation functions of forest areas are also lost, maybe for several years. This affects not only forest managers adversely, but the local population as well.
Under unfavourable weather conditions, vegetation and forest fires may cause air pollution that is dangerous to health, with high particulate matter concentrations (PM2.5 and PM10). Therefore, reducing forest fires also benefits health.
The renewal of forest after a forest fire costs about 2 000 EUR/hectare, the value of damaged timber might be 2 000 to 3 000 EUR/hectare. The costs of one days firefighting (e.g. people, bulldozers, fire engines, trucks, supplies, helicopters) in summer over a large area might exceed EUR 100 000. Therefore, EUR 1 spent on forest fire prevention can result in up to a thousand-fold return. However, this is difficult to quantify, as it involves both damage incurred and damage not foregone. The beneficiary is developing a more precise, economical, forest value counting methodology as part of the After-LIFE communication plan.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).