Europe is ready to harness innovative solutions to address Extreme Wildfire Events

| Published:

The Open Innovation Challenge initiated by the FIRE-RES project calls for applications that help address key challenges before, during and after large-scale wildfires increasingly faced by landscapes across Europe and the communities that live there.

Credits: ISCI

Connecting the dots: from suppression to resilience

Europe is facing an ever-growing number of extreme wildfires, often with devastating consequences for people and the environment. According to the European Forest Fire Information System, 2021 was the second-worst wildfire season in the European Union since 2000, when EFFIS records began. In that year, an area of 500.566ha was burnt in the EU27 and 417.807ha in other European countries. These fires no longer affect only or mainly southern Europe, but also central European and Nordic countries. For instance, 22 out of the 27 EU member states were affected.
The underlying causes of these fires and their devastating impacts – such as climate change, urbanisation and changing consumption patterns (driven by both tertiarisation and globalisation) – are here to stay. They highlight the limits of long-standing suppression-centred fire management strategies. That’s why practitioners, researchers, and policymakers increasingly recognise the need to develop novel approaches that expand the scope of work in this field.
Such innovative solutions need to understand that the landscapes at risk are not just physical assets such as forests and human homes or infrastructure. They consist of a multitude of ecological and social component parts and processes, whose resilience to the risk of fire needs to be improved.
The risk of wildfires consists not only of the hazard itself, and not even only of a combination of the hazard and exposure to it, but it lies at the intersection of hazard, exposure and vulnerability to both. Thus, vulnerability is a key consideration in continuously managing the challenge of fire – before, during and after the event.
To reduce landscapes’ and communities’ vulnerability to fire, all of society needs to work together to connect the dots. The root causes of fire need to be addressed through prevention, and effective preparation activities need to be devised. Its impacts need to be softened by fostering adaptation and ensuring recovery. All this needs to happen alongside the development of a more nuanced approach to managing wildfires rather than simply attempting to suppress them.
For, while the aim of suppressing, say, 98% of all ignitions seems, at face value, like a worthwhile endeavour, it is important to remember that a mere 2% of ignitions account for about 80% of the damage caused by wildland fires. Not to mention that successful suppression leads to a build-up of fuel loads for future fires!

FIRE-RES Open Innovation Challenge now open

The Open Innovation Challenge is open to innovators, be they individuals, teams or companies of all sizes. It is seeking innovative solutions of all kinds, for instance, technological, social or business-related: products, services, platforms, processes, procedures, best practices, etc. Solutions at all development stages are welcome, from early ideas, methods, and prototypes to close-to-market or market-ready services and products.
Eleven multi-stakeholder Living Labs across Europe have identified the most pressing challenges for increased resilience. They are grouped around seven themes: ‘Risk Communication and Awareness’, ‘Engagement and Empowerment’, ‘Training and Education’, ‘Management Before, During and After Extreme Wildfire Events’, ‘Monitoring’, ‘Forecasting and Decision Support’, and ‘Policy and Governance’.
Successful applicants with early-stage solutions, such as ideas, will be supported to develop their solutions. Later-stage solutions, such as prototypes, close-to-market, or market-ready solutions, will be supported to demonstrate, pilot and upscale their solutions. This will include brokerage of on-the-ground contacts and testing of solutions’ feasibility in the realistic contexts of the Living Labs. Successful applicants will receive mentoring and in-kind support. In addition, individual entries may be eligible for up to €5.000 for demonstration activities and up to €16.000 for piloting activities.
The FIRE-RES Open Innovation Challenge is open until 19 November 2023.

More information
Full details of the FIRE-RES Open Innovation Competition
Living Labs involved in identifying key challenges caused by fire

Authors: Anne Ackermann, Inazio Martinez de Arano (EFI)