Research on the causes of death of forest firefighters in Southern Europe

ISK Fire Survival

At ISK Fire Survival, we are firmly committed to developing research into the causes of wildland firefighting and manufacturing means to reduce firefighter mortality.

A relevant study on the deaths of firefighters in entrapments during forest fires in Europe is the analysis carried out by Cardil et al. in 2017, which examines all fatalities recorded in forest fires in Sardinia (Italy) from 1945 to 2015. This study classifies the types of accidents during wildfires to study the most frequent causes of fatalities and how these relate to the human groups involved (professional firefighters, auxiliary and civil firefighters), the size of the fire and extreme weather conditions. It was noted that the annual number of fatalities was highest in the period 1981-1999, with an average of 2.6 fatalities per year. Entrapment was the most frequent cause of death among professional firefighters, accounting for 75.6% of cases. The size of the fire was a key factor in the deaths, as more than 80% of wildfire deaths (not counting plane crashes) occurred in fires larger than 100 hectares. Days with extreme weather conditions (high temperatures or strong winds) were also decisive, as at least 47% of entrapments occurred on these types of days

Another important research conducted by Molina-Terrén in 2019 analyzes fatalities caused by forest fires in southern Europe, including Spain, Portugal, Greece and Sardinia (Italy), during the period from 1945 to 2016. This study identifies a significant increase in fatalities in the late 1970s in the four regions studied and highlights the seasonality of fatalities during the summer months. Although Spain has the highest number of absolute deaths, the normalized analysis by population and burned area shows that the annual number of fatalities is comparatively lower. Civilians were the most affected group in Greece (65%) and Sardinia (58%), but not in Spain and Portugal. This study suggests that there is a need for a thorough review of fire management policies and practices, with an emphasis on prevention planning in urban areas and better training of firefighting resources. The authors of this research are Molina-Terrén, Xanthopoulos, Diakakis, Ribeiro, Caballero, Delogu, Viegas, Silva and Cardil.

These studies provide valuable information on the circumstances and factors contributing to firefighter fatalities in wildfires in Europe, highlighting the importance of prevention, appropriate training and preparedness for extreme weather conditions in reducing risks for firefighters.