Wildfires in Europe: a growing risk
As we’ve all seen in the news, wildfires have been breaking out at record speed this year. Most famously, the Amazon rainforest has been burning rapidly, as have other forests around the world. And Europe is no exception to the issue.
According to a report by Copernicus’ European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), over 1,600 wildfires have been recorded in the EU this year. This is over three times higher than the average number seen in the last decade.
Between 2008 and 2018, there were an average of 464 wildfires per year. But, between January 1st and August 15th this year, there have been 1,626 fires – far more than the average.
This increase has resulted in the average number of hectares burned also rising. For example, the average is around 171,000, and this year has seen a 100,000 hectare increase to 271,000.
Heatwaves across the continent have, of course, worsened the problem. Many countries, have been hit with record temperatures this summer. France recorded temperatures of up to 46 degrees celsius, and has seen 42,000 hectares of forest burned.
Other European states, including Italy, Spain, and Greece, have mobilised planes as part of the EU disaster management system, rescEU, in order to tackle growing wildfires.
In recent years, forest fires have been on the rise. But it’s still unclear whether this will be an ongoing trend. In 2017, 1.2 million hectares went up in flames, including 800,000 in Portugal, Italy, and Spain. There were 127 civilian deaths and billions of euros worth of economic damage.
The European Commission put together a report following this, in which it warned that “climate change will reduce fuel moisture levels from present values” and the region would “become drier, increasing the weather-driven danger of forest fires”.
In another report, the Commission warned that fire season in Europe could become longer in the coming years. Scientists have estimated that, as temperatures increase, fires in the Eastern Mediterranean and Arctic regions could be particularly at risk.