Europe suffers a record summer of surface burned by fires



With the high fire season still underway, the provisional balance of hectares burned in Europe has exceeded 660,000 since January, a record at this point in the year since satellite data began to be collected in 2006.

Since January 1, fires have destroyed 662,776 hectares of forest throughout the European Union, according to data updated this Sunday by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), which produces comparable statistics since 2006 thanks to satellite images of the European Copernicus program.

The area hardest hit by the fires has been the Iberian Peninsula. In Spain, which suffered two major heat waves this summer between June and August, 246,278 hectares were burned, mainly in the regions of Galicia, the Castilian province of Zamora (northwest) and Extremadura. The situation improved in recent days with lower temperatures.

In Portugal, firefighters took a week to control a fire in the Serra da Estrela natural park, recognized by UNESCO, and where 17,000 hectares burned.

France saw even worse years in the 1970s, before standardized data was established at the European level. But according to these figures, 2022 was the worst in the last 16 years, largely due to two successive large fires in the Gironde department, near Bordeaux (southwest), for which reinforcements of German, Polish and German firefighters were needed. Austrians this week.

The situation was equally exceptional in central Europe. In July, it took more than ten days for firefighters to bring the biggest fire in Slovenia’s recent history under control, with the help of a population mobilized with such enthusiasm that the government had to ask residents to stop donating to firefighters.

Lacking specialized aircraft to fight the fires, Slovenia had to ask Croatia for help, which sent a plane before bringing it back to put out its own fires. For this reason, the Slovenian government is now considering the purchase of its first tanker aircraft.

– More and more fires in central Europe –

In terms of area burned, after Spain are Romania (150,528 hectares), Portugal (75,277 hectares) and France (61,289 hectares).

If the summer period is taken, “2022 is already a record year,” Jesús San Miguel, EFFIS coordinator, explains to AFP.

The previous record in Europe dates from 2017, when 420,913 hectares burned as of August 13, and 988,087 hectares in one year.

“I hope we don’t have the month of October that we had back then,” when 400,000 hectares were razed across Europe, adds Jesús San Miguel.

And it is that the exceptional drought that plagues Europe, added to the heat waves, is a devastating formula.

Until now, these conditions of extreme dryness were observed mainly in the Mediterranean, and now “it is exactly what has happened in central Europe”, points out Jesús San Miguel.

In the Czech Republic, for example, a fire devastated more than a thousand hectares, which is little compared to other countries, and yet 158 ​​times more important than the 2006-2021 average in this country.

In central Europe, the areas burned remain small compared to the tens of thousands of hectares devastated in Spain, Portugal or France. In addition to the fires in Croatia, there were three in Slovenia and five in Austria. Although the continuous climatic warming in the whole of Europe threatens to accentuate the trend.

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