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Fires in Europe burn the second largest area on record

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The fires raging across Europe this summer have burned the second largest area on record, even though the region is only halfway through its typical fire season, according to data from the European Union’s Joint Research Center.

A dozen European countries have suffered major fires this year, forcing thousands to evacuate and destroying homes and businesses. Countries like Italy, Spain and France continue to face extreme fire risk.

Fires have burned 600,731 hectares in EU countries so far this year, according to the data. This figure is the second highest for any year since 2006, when records began. In 2017, 987,844 hectares were burned.

The area burned this year is more than double that of Luxembourg. In no other year in the dataset had such a high amount of land burned been recorded in Europe as of August.

The typical fire season in the Mediterranean region runs from June to September.

Climate change is exacerbating fires, increasing hot and dry conditions that help them spread faster, burn longer and be more intense. Hotter weather removes moisture from vegetation, turning it into dry fuel, a problem that is exacerbated by reduced manpower in some areas to clear this vegetation.

Víctor Resco de Dios, professor of Forestry Engineering at the University of Lleida, said that the large fires that France and Portugal suffered in early July were “extremely unusual” and showed how climate change is causing the fire season to start earlier and last longer.

“The current fires in the Mediterranean can no longer be extinguished… The big fires are getting bigger,” he said.

Data from the Joint Research Center (JRC) covers wildfires larger than 30 hectares, so if smaller fires were included the total burned would be even higher.

Southern European countries such as Portugal and Greece experience fires most summers, but rising temperatures are causing the risk of severe fires to spread north, with Germany, Slovenia and the Czech Republic among the worst. affected countries this season.

Some measures can help limit the flames, such as the establishment of controlled fires that mimic the low intensity fires of the natural cycles of the ecosystem.

However, if the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change are not drastically reduced, scientists agree that heat waves, fires and other climate damage will worsen considerably.


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