Forest Fire

Climate change will have serious effects on forests in Austria. Increased periods of drought and higher temperatures can lead to an increased risk of forest fires in Austria. An increase of forest fires can impair the protective function of forests.

Forest fire - Quo vadis!?

It is assumed that the activity of forest fires will increase world-wide in response to climate change. In areas where forest fires have always occurred frequently for example in the Mediterranean forest fires have been studied in detail. The results indicate that preventive forest management actions against forest fires should be part of the forest management plans.

In the Alpine Region forest fires have so far not posed a major threat to human life and infrastructure as, compared to the neighbouring Mediterranean region, such events are rare usually smaller areas burn down and in most cases no major economic or social damage is caused. In Austria most fires are of anthropogenic origin but for more than half of these fires we do not know the actual cause of ignition. The number of fires per year varies between 100 and 300 in Austria Forest fires typically burn areas of up to 1 hectare in Austria, larger fires are still rare.

However higher numbers of weather extremes may lead to an increase in the occurrence of forest fires in the Alps. Past droughts like those in the summers of 2003, 2007, 2012 and 2015 have shown how forest fires can become an important issue in Austria’s ecosystems - which so far have not been at risk of fire.

Mountain forests play a crucial role in the protection of humans against natural hazards. An increase in the occurrence of forest fires may impair the protective function of the forest, increase the vulnerability to other natural hazards such as avalanches and mudflows and entail significant costs.

To be able to manage the future forest fire situation in Austria and in the Alpine Region it is important to intensify the exchange of knowledge on pan-European level as well as the communication between the main players especially the fire brigades, the scientific community and political decision makers.

Current research focuses on the identification of the main challenges in forest fire prevention, fire fighting and post-event restoration of forest fire areas. In view of climate change a network of forest fire experts from all Alpine areas has been created to develop options for integrated fire management in the Alps.

Activities of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management

  • Strategy to minimise risks from forest fires as part of the Protective Forest Action Programme. Coordination of the prevention and funding policy for forest fire fighting
  • National risk analysis for forest fires: A risk map for forest fires is to be prepared for Austria in order to present the risk of forest fires for all Austria.
  • Awareness-raising for and risk communication on forest fires
  • National contact group for forest fire: A contact group for forest fires (BML, ZAMG, “BOKU” University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences) is to be established to enable the exchange of data on events and damages.

Study conducted in EUSALP AG8

  • “Forest fires in the Alps: State of knowledge and future challenges” in the context of the AlpGov Alpine space project and in the context of EUSALP Action Group 8
  • Target group: Political decision-makers, scientific community, action forces
  • Coping with the future forest fire situation in Austria and in the Alpine space
  • Improvement of knowledge exchange on pan-European level
  • Improvement of the communication between major players, such as action forces, the scientific community and politics
  • Identification of the major challenges in forest fire prevention, fire fighting and the restoration of forests and soils after fires in the Alps
  • Outlining the options for integrated forest fire management in the Alps in view of climate change

Forest fire at the Absamer Vorberg

  • In late March 2014, an approximately 50 hectares large area of protective forest including avalanche barriers was destroyed by a forest fire in the municipality of Absam in Tyrol.
  • Due to the enormous size of the forest fire considerable secondary damage had to be expected.
  • Therefore, the Provincial Forest Service of Tyrol was charged with the development of a project to restore the forest areas destroyed by the forest fire, the protective function and protection structures as soon as possible.
  • Area management project of the torrent and avalanche control service and the Provincial Forest Administration of Tyrol - 2014 with a project period of 15 years and total costs of 3 million euros.

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