Castilla-La Mancha: using Copernicus to prevent and manage forest fires


Castilla–La Mancha is a Spanish autonomous community located in the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula’s Inner Plateau. The community occupies an area of 79,463 km2, including over 3.5 million hectares of forests, which represent 13% of the whole Spanish forests.

INFOCAM, integrated in the Regional Department of Sustainable Development, leads the integral management of forest fires in Castilla-la Mancha. INFOCAM performs its tasks in coordination with all the departments of the Government of Castilla-La Mancha, with local and provincial entities, and with the companies and private owners that are involved in sustainable rural development.

The Analysis and Planning Unit (UNAP) of INFOCAM issues periodical forest fire risk reports, that are used to enforce preparedness and response to forest fires.

The challenge

In the summer of 2021, major forest fires led to both ecological and economic losses in Spain. Of all Spain’s regions, Castilla-La Mancha is the one with the most municipalities in high fire-risk areas, with a total of 780.

To limit the damage of fires on forests and take better preventive measures to avoid them, INFOCAM needs to monitor the conditions of the vegetation, as vegetation stress makes it prone to combustion, due to drought and high temperatures in summer or freeze in winter.

The satellite solution

Copernicus provides data on vegetation related to phenology, photosynthesis activity, and vegetation stress.

INFOCAM uses data from Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-3 satellites to estimate the density of green in the region and the amount of green and alive elements of the vegetation. This information is important to know the amount of vegetation that could be available for potential fires and is crucial to reduce uncertainty, especially with regard to emergency preparedness.

The results

The maps and the data concerning the forest fire risks are provided to the stakeholders through a web-GIS (Geographic Information System) and daily reports that are distributed to the entities in charge of managing forests and fire risks.

Remote sensing data provided by Copernicus represent a crucial tool to support fire services before the fire season starts and enable them to activate resources and procedures.

During emergencies, when fires are being managed, the satellites provide fire managers with information about the spatial distribution of the fire risk that is useful to design operational plans for fire extinction.

Based on the information on the fire risks contained in the maps, the region can increase or move resources (e.g., helicopters, fire engines and fire brigades) from prevention tasks to firefighting tasks in time.

Moreover, combined with wind and meteorological data, the maps allow for the forecasting of fire spreads into nearby areas.