Following the flames

A complex phenomenon

New weather-marine conditions and an organizational gap increase the likelihood of fires on the Molise coast.

A call comes into the operations room: the Campomarino pine forest is on fire. In 2021, a mega-fire spreads between the beach and the industrial area in the coastal area between Molise and Puglia. These phenomena are more frequent as temperatures rise. The wind carries the sparks hundreds of meters away, where land abandonment and poor management skills leave the forest in the grip of flames. Today, the Civil Protection is experimenting with new monitoring tools, trying to learn from past events to promote prevention and adaptation.

The forest facing the sea

The Garbino, Libeccio for many, blows over the coast of Molise. It is a region characterized by the presence of land classified as mountainous, covered with forest vegetation over almost its entirety. A flat strip of land separates the mountains from the sea. There, beaches, dunes and pine forests alternate, creating a fascinating landscape. The man-forest relationship, translated into different approaches to forest management, has always been very important: it has marked the economy, culture and traditions of this unique coastal area, where the forest overlooks the sea.

The vegetation density increases the chance of fires

If we observe it from above, the green of the tree canopies dominates the view that is defined by the compact and uninterrupted vegetative continuity that covers the land. The horizontal and vertical continuity that connects the undergrowth with the canopies makes these forests particularly vulnerable to the spread of flames; in fact, all it takes is a small spark for the fire to escape extinguishing capabilities. In an environment with these characteristics, proper forest and land management assumes a pivotal role in preventing fire danger. 

Loss of culture and resources

The culture of forest management has been lost in recent times. The abandonment of agricultural soils has caused the advance of species that favor the spread of flames, especially with the winds that are dominant here, such as the Garbino. In addition, the dissolution of the Forest Service in 2017 has led to a gap in fire management; these critical issues have triggered a separation of responsibilities and a necessary reorganization of the administrative structure. The increase in fires is thus caused by the increase in dry seasons and inefficient maintenance and management.

The marine pinewood is at risk

At Campomarino Lido we are on the border with Puglia. This is a coastal pine forest, particularly wild and natural. On the side facing the Adriatic there are dunes that are protected at the national and European level. The pine forest has a significant history of anthropogenic pressure: it has been affected by fire several times over the years. There have been many issues, from the interference with the railway and the highway, to the arson attacks, such as the one that in August 2021 escaped extinguishing capacity. Despite the continuous threats, the vegetation shows resilience and still remains of great environmental interest.

Knowledge for prevention

Traditional and scientific knowledge come together for better fire management. There is a close interaction between the various types of winds and fires that often fail to be tamed and escape the extinguishing capacity of the civil protection, becoming difficult to control. The passing of seconds, not minutes, affects the possibility of control but not only that. Other variables such as the type of vegetation that is burning, weather conditions, landforms, infrastructure and management dynamics define or not the ability to fight the fire. Knowing the winds and their directions is key information in emergency management, as demonstrated by the August 1, 2021 fire, which required the intervention of all civil protection teams in Campomarino.

How wind contributes to flame leap


Antonio Cardillo

Molise Civil Protection

Observing the flames from above

Flying over the pine forest, we observe the fire marks against the intense blue of the sea. Tracing the path of the flames can be complicated, but it is critically important for prevention since they are anticipating more intense and frequent fire occurrences. The use of drones can help in observing this endangered environment from a new perspective. Thanks to the images collected, it is possible to classify the fire of August 2021 as a mega-fire, a fire whose extensive expansion is accelerated by drought. The new tools are important for understanding the extent of past fires and protecting Campomarino’s forests and dunes, but their usefulness does not stop there. Surveys in these areas have made it possible to update models used on a national scale for forest fire prevention and response.

Drones were used to trace the flames path

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Antonio Cardillo

Molise Civil Protection

Between fire and water

The charred forest, a powerful image that reminds bystanders of the dramatic events of uncontrolled flames that caused the loss of a valuable natural area and endangered bathers, who were forced between fire and water.  Coastal areas, especially those with high ventilation, will be increasingly affected by fire phenomena. Rising temperatures due to climate change increase the frequency of dry seasons and encourage the abandonment of agricultural land in the face of an increasing demand for irrigation in areas with limited freshwater supplies. New tools and technologies, such as those pioneered in Campomarino by the Civil Protection, are critical for coastal adaptation today and in the future.