Forest fires: a record summer of burnt areas in Europe

Forest fires: a record summer of burnt areas in Europe

While the main fire season is not yet over, the preliminary number of fires in the European Union has been rising since January, with more than 660,000 hectares already burned, setting a record at this time of year since satellite data began in 2006.

• Also read: [PHOTOS] European reinforcements against the fires in France

• Also read: Portugal: More than 1,500 firefighters are still mobilized against a fire in a natural park

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Since January 1, fires have devastated 662,776 hectares of forest in the European Union, according to data updated on Sunday from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), which has kept comparable statistics since 2006 thanks to satellite imagery from Europe’s Copernicus programme.

France had worse years in the 1970s before the European standardized data. But 2022, according to these figures, is the hardest in 16 years, largely because of two large back-to-back fires in the Gironde in the south-west of the country, where German, Polish and Austrian firefighters arrived this week.

The situation is also exceptional in Central Europe: in July, for example, it took firefighters more than ten days to bring the largest fire in Slovenia’s recent history under control, aided by a population so mobile that the government had to call out to residents to no longer make donations to the fire brigade.

However, because Slovenia didn’t have specialist planes to fight the fires, it had to seek help from Croatia, which sent a plane… before calling back to put out its own fires. The Slovenian government is now considering acquiring its first water bombers.

Also very spectacularly, in Berlin, Germany, a large fire broke out from a police ammunition depot last week, in a forest in the midst of a drought, a fire which was quickly brought under control. So far spared from such fires, the German capital is now increasingly threatened because of the importance of its forest areas.

However, the Iberian Peninsula is hardest hit by the fires. Spain, parched like France by multiple heatwaves this summer, saw 246,278 hectares devastated by fires, mostly in Galicia in the northwest. However, the situation has improved with the drop in temperatures.

Portugal has also been battling a fire at the UNESCO-recognized Global Geopark in the Serra da Estrela mountainous region, which rises to around 2,000 metres, for more than a week.

– Central Europe upwards –

In terms of burnt areas, Spain is followed by Romania (150,528 hectares), Portugal (75,277 hectares) and France (61,289 hectares).

In the summer alone, “2022 is already a record year,” Jesus San-Miguel, EFFIS coordinator, told AFP. The previous record for Europe is from 2017 when 420,913 hectares went up in smoke on August 13 and 988,087 hectares in one year.

“Hopefully we don’t have the October we had this year,” he continues; At that time, 400,000 hectares had been destroyed across Europe in one month.

The exceptional drought in Europe, combined with heat waves, favors the outbreak of fires.

These ultra-arid conditions were more commonly observed in the Mediterranean countries, but “that’s exactly what happened in central Europe,” which until then had been spared these meteorological phenomena, adds Jesus San-Miguel.

For example, in the Czech Republic, more than a thousand hectares were devastated by a fire, which is small compared to other countries, but … 158 times more important than the average of 2006-2021, when the fires were negligible.

In Central Europe, the burnt areas are therefore still small compared to the tens of thousands of hectares in Spain, France or Portugal. In addition to the fires in Croatia, there were only three launches in Slovenia and five in Austria.

But ongoing global warming across Europe should only reinforce the trend.