On Monday evening, a wildfire broke out in the High Fens region, on the border with Germany, burning an area equivalent to 230 football pitches, with 140 firefighters from Belgium and Germany scrambling to control it.
At the start of May, Belgium was not on the EU’s map of droughts meaning it was not considered at high risk of wildfire outbreaks.
But on Tuesday, around 140 firefighters – mainly Belgians and some Germans – tried to contain the flames throughout the night and the day.
Despite the dry, windy weather, which made the task more difficult, they managed to keep the flames contained to a certain area. However, according to a Walloon Public Service press release, the damage still exceeds 170 hectares.
According to the Walloon Public Service, the flames were caused by human activity, as there were no natural phenomena, such as thunderstorms or lightning to explain the fire starting in this difficult-to-access area.
In parallel, on Tuesday afternoon, the European Commission announced the launch of a Wildfire Peer Review Assessment Methodology, a new tool to help countries assess their capacity to prevent and prepare for wildfires and to support the exchange of good practices among European countries within the framework of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
An Emergency Response Coordination Centre Wildfires Support Team is also currently being set up to enable “near-real-time monitoring and analysis of the wildfire situation from mid-June to mid-September”, the Commission added.
Janez Lenarčič, EU Commissioner for Crisis Management, said that “wildfires have become a pan-European concern” and that “risk expanded to areas that have not previously been exposed, moving well beyond the Mediterranean region.” Thus, “decisive and prompt action” at the EU level is also required, he explained.
The Commission also announced it has doubled the rescEU aerial firefighting fleet, which includes 24 aeroplanes and 4 helicopters from 10 European countries.