Towards the Development of a

Global Early Warning System for Wildland Fire


Fire is a very prevalent disturbance in the global natural and cultural landscapes with several hundred million hectares of vegetation burning every year. Uncontrolled landscape fires – wildfires – have many serious negative impacts on human safety, health, regional economies and global climate change. Industrial countries of the Global North are spending billions every year in an attempt to limit the impact of wildfires. In contrast, countries of the Global South have limited financial resources to control fire, yet they are often the most susceptible to the damaging impacts of fire because of increased vulnerability of human life and property (due to limited fire suppression capability), increased risk due to high fire frequency (often caused by the cultural use of fire), and sensitive economies (tourism, transport).

To mitigate these fire-related problems, forest and land management agencies, as well as land owners and communities, require an early warning system to identify critical time periods of extreme fire danger in advance of their occurrence. Early warning of these conditions with high spatial and temporal resolution incorporating measures of uncertainty and the likelihood of extreme conditions allow fire managers to implement fire prevention, detection and pre-suppression plans before fire problems begin. Considering the fact that the majority of uncontrolled and destructive wildfires are caused by humans as a consequence of inappropriate use of fire in agriculture, pastoralism and forestry, it is crucial that international wildfire early warning systems are developed to complement relevant national fire danger warning systems where they exist, to provide early warning where national systems do not exist, and to enhance warnings applied or generated at the local (community) level- This would meet the request of UN Secretary General Kofi Anan to develop people-centered early warning systems – also laid down in the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015: “Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters”. This would ensure delivery of targeted information reflecting specific local conditions and allowing the involvement of local communities in fire management including wildfire prevention.

In 1997, the Secretariat of the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), custodian of the IDBDR Early Warning Programme, entrusted the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry through its Fire Ecology Research Group – predecessor of the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) – to convene and lead an International Working Group to develop a Report on Early Warning for Fire and Other Environmental Hazards. This report was delivered and published in 1997:

In following-up the firsts two international early warning conferences in Germany in 1998 and 2003, the Third International Conference on Early Warning (EWC III) took place in Bonn, Germany, 27 to 29 March 2006, under the auspices of the United Nations. 

The Wildland Fire Community had been invited to participate at EWC III. Two project proposals for the Global Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (requested by the Hyogo Framework for Action and the UN Secretary General) have been endorsed by the UN and were presented at EWC III. The Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) coordinated the participation of the international wildland fire community.

The contributions on wildland fire included:

Follow-up presentations of the Global Early Warning System for Wildland Fire

Related meetings and reports

Website of the Global Early Warning System for Wildland Fire Portal (December 2009)

The Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) / Fire Ecology Research Group
Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and Freiburg University
Georges-Koehler-Allee 75
D – 79110 Freiburg



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