Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on January 2, 2018.

Europe's Wildfire Problem



For many European countries, 2017 was an extended wildfire wakeup call. From a fire that killed more than 60 people in June in Portugal to one that made it appear that Italy’s Mount Vesuvius had erupted, the blazes kept coming, fueled over the summer by windy conditions and a heat wave dubbed “Lucifer.”

According to a report by Euronews, as of mid-October there had been more than twice the number of wildfires in the European Union in 2017 than in 2016—1,671 fires versus 639. Citing climate change, wildfire experts said those figures will likely increase in coming years.

NFPA is currently engaged in helping European fire service leaders reduce property and life loss from wildfires as it braces for this new reality. In the United Kingdom, for example, the National Fire Chiefs Council is using Firewise® as a tool in its community risk reduction outreach in two counties in Southwest England. Firewise, NFPA’s cornerstone wildfire safety program, teaches community involvement in preventing and preparing for wildfires. At the U.K. Wildfires 2017 Conference in November in Bournemouth, England, Firewise was included in an educational booklet produced by conference participants. “We hope the booklet will be used by anybody that has a need to consider wildfire resilience in [the United Kingdom] or when creating a new Firewise Community,” Andy Elliott, a U.K. fire service member who managed the conference, said in an interview for a recent NFPA blog.

NFPA’s wildfire efforts extend to other European countries as well. In Spain, which has been flagged by experts as a country that’s at high risk for devastating wildfires, NFPA is working with the Pau Costa Fire Ecology and Fire Management Foundation to hold a Wildfire Community Preparedness Day around Barcelona in May. The day is celebrated in the United States and Canada by encouraging residents to learn about wildfire and engage in wildlife hazard mitigation efforts like clearing brush to create defensible space.


Committee makes strides toward improving fire and life safety in Middle East, Africa

The Middle East–North Africa (MENA) Advisory Committee met for the second time in November in Kuwait and devised a plan to move fire and life safety advancements forward in that part of the world.

Established by NFPA in the spring of 2017, the group, which meets at least twice a year, is committed to improving fire and life safety in the two regions, which have experienced rapid growth over the past two decades. At the meeting, committee members decided that the best way to build a safety infrastructure there is to enhance communication between leaders in the public and private sectors, specifically those in the design and construction community. Fires caused by combustible materials added to newly built skyscrapers in cities like Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, have been widely reported in recent years. Ultimately, the goal is to get both sectors to adopt key NFPA codes and standards, including NFPA 1, Fire Code; NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®; and NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems.

The next MENA Advisory Committee meeting is scheduled to take place in January at Intersec Dubai, an annual safety and security conference where NFPA is participating.

Lima, Peru

Latin American enforcers identify ways NFPA can help

In November, authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) from 10 Latin American countries met in Lima, Peru, for an annual workshop hosted by NFPA to discuss fire prevention, inspection, code adoption, and other key fire and life safety topics.

The group came away with several suggestions for how NFPA can help them with their goals of improving fire and life safety in their respective countries. Among their recommendations was that NFPA provide instructions on the stakeholders involved and steps needed for code adoption to occur, and for NFPA to offer more Spanish- language content, including current codes, standards, and handbooks.

NFPA’s director of International Operations, Olga Caledonia, said NFPA is working to meet these needs. “We are committed not only to making available key codes and standards in Spanish but to working closely with regional fire prevention offices throughout Latin America to help AHJs with their enforcement duties,” she said. Caledonia said the Lima workshop also highlighted a need to educate policymakers in Latin America about NFPA codes and standards and the importance of their adoption.


‘Dig deeper’: NFPA president urges continued fire and life safety advancements at Israeli fire conference

NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley delivered the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Fire Protection Association (FPA) of Israel, held in December.

In his speech, Pauley highlighted some of the most significant recent fires that have struck Israel and elsewhere, including the Grenfell Tower fire in London and the 2016 wildfires in the Israeli port city of Haifa. Those events and others, Pauley said, demonstrate the need for a continued push for fire and life safety advancements worldwide.

Aerial view of Tel Aviv

Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv (pictured), share concerns over combustible exterior wall assemblies with other cities around the world. Photograph: AP/Wide World

“My intent is not to be pessimistic today but rather to point out that our work is not done, and to lay the foundation for how we can work together so that we can solve the fire problems of our times,” Pauley told the crowd of more than 450 fire, electrical, and life safety professionals.

In recent years, NFPA has built a strong relationship with Israel. Two years ago, it helped launch the FPA, which is led by longtime NFPA member Shmuel Netanel, who is also an NFPA technical committee member. While Israel has made strides in fire and life safety—Israeli law, for example, requires NFPA codes and standards be used in the absence of a local standard—more work needs to be done, officials say. Residential buildings over 30 stories may lack adequate inspection and maintenance of fire protection systems, and there’s a need for more robust wildfire prevention efforts.

“Now is not the time to be complacent or content with what you know,” Pauley concluded. “Dig deeper. Learn more.”

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: AP/Wide World