EU Wildfires, worst on record

ByForest Machine Magazine

27th May 2024

EU-a sharp increase in burnt areas was recorded during the summer months of 2023, mostly affecting the Mediterranean region. By total burnt surface area, 2023 was the fourth worst year since 2000.

The 2023 wildfire season in the EU was among the worst this century, according to a European Commission report.

Last year, more than half a million (504,002) hectares, an area twice the size of Luxembourg, was scorched by wildfires, according to a report on Forest Fires in Europe, Middle East and North Africa 2023 by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

The burnt areas included shrublands and sclerophyllous vegetation  (37% of the total burnt area) as well as forests (26%). These wildfires had severe environmental consequences, releasing an estimated 20 megatons (Mt) of CO2 emissions , equivalent to nearly a third of all emissions from international aviation in the EU in one year.

The wildfire activity peaked during the summer months, especially in the Mediterranean region. Dry soil, low humidity, and high winds created critical fire danger conditions. Notably, the largest single fire ever recorded in the EU since the 1980’s occurred in Greece, covering over 96,000 hectares.

Severe wildfire events like these are related to very high and extreme wildfire danger conditions due to climate change. Traditional aerial firefighting techniques struggled to control the intensity of these fires, emphasizing the need for better preparedness and efficient firefighting means.

Climate change is making wildfires more frequent, and wildfires are increasingly affecting areas that have not been considered fire-prone in the past, the report said. It added that things are likely to get worse, according to the European Climate Risk assessment report published in March.


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Preliminary data for the first three months of 2024 show almost double the average number of EU fires, although these did not have major impact in terms of burnt areas.

Last year, the EU reinforced its rescEU firefighting fleet (firefighting planes and helicopters) as well as pre-positioned hundreds of firefighters for immediate support in forest fires-prone countries.

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism was activated 10 times to respond to wildfires in the Mediterranean, Chile, Bolivia and Canada. In 2024, the same level of response will be maintained.

The fire risk is expected to further increase due to climate change. The season will be increasingly characterised by massive fires that cost lives and burn areas that take longer to fully recover. Between 2007 and 2023, over 16% of all requests for assistance through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism were in response to wildfires.

Wildfires have recently become a pan-European concern. In 2022, although France, Spain and Portugal were particularly hit, major fires also took place in Czechia, Germany, Greece, and Slovenia, to name a few.

In total, 20 EU Member States recorded more burned areas than average in 2022.

The wildfire risk expanded to areas that have not previously been exposed, moving well beyond the Mediterranean region. This causes huge societal, environmental, climate and economic losses across Europe.

In 2023 the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) channelled assistance to Albania, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Cyprus and Greece and Tunisia.

Furthermore, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS) regularly produces satellite maps on demand to help national authorities respond to wildfires. In the same year, Copernicus has been activated 25 times for wildfires across the globe.

In 2023, both the number of fires and the EU’s annual burnt area were above average.

The European Commission said that hundreds of firefighters and a fleet of aircraft are prepared to tackle wildfires this summer.

556 firefighters from 12 countries will be strategically prepositioned across key locations in Europe over the coming months to help local fire brigades in France; Greece; Portugal, and Spain.

In addition, the EU has assembled a dedicated “rescEU fleet” of firefighting aircraft for this summer.

The fleet consists of 28 airplanes, including amphibious models, and four helicopters stationed in 10 member states.

Forest Machine Magazine is written and edited by a forest professional with over 40 years hands on experience. We are dedicated to keeping you informed with all the latest news, views and reviews from our industry.

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