Wildfires in Europe burn area equivalent to one-fifth of Belgium

Experts say drought and extreme high temperatures likely to make it a record year for destruction by fires

Across Europe, an area equivalent to one-fifth of Belgium has been ravaged by flames as successive searing heatwaves and a historic drought propel the continent towards what experts say is likely to be a record year for wildfire destruction.

According to data from the European Forest Fire Information System (Effis), 659,541 hectares (1.6m acres) of land burned across the continent between January and mid-August, the most at this time of year since records began in 2006.

The figure is 56% higher than the previous record in 2017. Then, 420,913 hectares burned over the same period, and 988,087 were consumed by the end of the year. On present trends, more than 1m hectares could be lost to wildfires this year.

The total land area burned across Europe so far this year is double the 2006-2021 average, the Effis data shows, while the cumulative number of fires is more than four times the average over the same period.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” said the Effis coordinator, Jesús San-Miguel.

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While fire seasons in the EU are historically “driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region”, since 2010 fires have been blazing in central and northern countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he told Agence France-Presse.

Spain has so far been hardest hit, losing 244,924 hectares, followed by Romania (150,528) and Portugal (77,292). More than 60,000 hectares have burned in France, half as much again as the 43,600 it lost in the whole of 2019, its previous record.

The figures were released days after the EU’s Copernicus atmosphere monitoring service (Cams) – which provides the satellite data used by Effis – warned last week that much of western Europe was in “extreme” or “very extreme” fire danger.

The service said daily total fire radiative power – a measure of the intensity of ongoing blazes – was significantly higher in France, Spain and Portugal than average for July and August, while wildfire carbon emissions broke all records in France and Spain.

French media have said the president, Emmanuel Macron, will meet firefighters and officials soon to discuss wildfire strategies after emergency teams succeeded this weekend in controlling a vast fire in the south-western Gironde region.

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The Landiras fire, which reignited last week after destroying 14,000 hectares in July, had burned through another 7,600 hectares, forcing the evacuation of 10,000 people. But fire crews were still battling blazes in Brittany and eastern Jura.

Portugal said on Saturday that it too had brought a large wildfire under control that had been burning for a week in the Unesco-designated Serra da Estrela natural park, and a blaze on the Czech-German border was also put out over the weekend.

But in Spain, a fire in north-east Spain was burning out of control on Sunday, destroying an estimated 8,000 hectares and forcing the evacuation of eight villages and 1,500 people in Zaragoza province, authorities said.

According to the Effis data, the total area of land that has burned in wildfires so far this year is almost four times the country’s full-year average of 66,965 hectares since 2006, when records began.

Contributor

Jon Henley Europe correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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