The risk of fires in Europe is heightened by the first heat waves, the drought

MADRID (AP) – Widespread drought in many Mediterranean countries, last week’s heat wave in northern Germany and high fuel costs for aircraft needed to fight fires have heightened concerns across Europe this year. summer.

And it’s only June.

“Much of the continent is in drought,” said Cathelijne Stoof, a professor of environmental science at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who described the prospect of forest fires as “very challenging across Europe”.

Fires last summer blackened more than 11,000 square kilometers (4,250 square miles) of land – an area four times the size of Luxembourg. About half of the damage was to the European Union.

And, experts say, Europe’s fires are not just a problem for the warmer southern countries.

“What scientists are warning us is that (fires) are obviously reaching the north and in countries like the UK, in countries like Germany and in the Nordic countries, in the future, we have to expect fires to happen more often.” said Kathryn Gamber, an expert on climate change adaptation at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Fires across Spain have destroyed tens of thousands of acres of forest land, although the recent sharp drop in temperature is helping firefighters contain them.

Spain’s troubles began with the arrival in the spring of the first heatwave of two decades. Temperatures as high as those typically recorded in August rose above 40 C (104 F) in many Spanish cities.

Neighboring Portugal also saw the warmest May of nine decades, and in France the month was the warmest on record.

“As a result of climate change, heat waves start earlier and become more frequent and severe due to record concentrations of greenhouse gases trapping heat,” the World Meteorological Organization said last week.

“What we see today is a foretaste of the future.”

Despite extensive planning, early warning, and forecasting models, preparing for fires remains a huge challenge. The EU is expanding a joint pool of aircraft and helicopters on standby this summer to provide cross-border support and is expected to work with more nations outside the bloc.

“It is very difficult to predict forest fires,” said Marta Arbinolo, an OECD policy analyst specializing in climate adaptation and resilience.

“We know that the summer of (2022) is forecast by meteorological forecasts to be particularly hot and dry, probably even more so than 2020 or ’21, which was the driest and hottest summer in Europe,” he said. “We can expect that the risk of fires in Europe in the summer can be very high.”

In Greece, which suffered some of Europe’s deadliest wildfires last August, authorities say the high cost of fuel has added to the challenges facing the fire service, which relies heavily on water jets for fire fighting in the mountainous country.

Greece will start using chemical fire retardants in water drops this year, while the EU is sending more than 200 firefighters and equipment from France, Germany and four other countries to Greece to stay all summer.

The seasons of fires are also growing.

“The concept of the fire period is losing its meaning at the moment. “We have a season of fires all year round,” said Victor Resco de Dios, a professor of forestry engineering at Lleida University in northeastern Catalonia, Spain, which has been hit hard by summer fires.

“The main changes we see with climate change are the longer durations of fires.”

Laura Villagra, Catalonia’s top government official, told a regional conference that fire prevention measures this season could include closing parks.

“The weather is worse every year and the drought is very evident this year,” he said. “We are waiting for a very complicated summer.”

Resco predicts a bleak future in Spain, arguing that areas currently affected by fires “are unlikely to experience many fires by the end of the century.” Why; Because the forests would be very few. “There would be nothing left to burn.”

Other experts are not so gloomy.

OECD Gamper and Arbinolo point out that some of the worst fires have actually brought positive developments, such as the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, which facilitates rapid co-operation between countries in emergencies. European countries, they argue, are also open to incorporating risk reduction into their planning, rather than simply boosting their firefighting resources.

“The core is the need for comprehensive fire management, attention to fires all year round and not just when it is dry, and investment in landscape management,” Stoof said.

Gamber called for two things that she said would have a significant impact. First, reconsider urban planning by not building near extreme risk forests.

“I think our first kind of appeal to countries is to think about where you will continue to settle,” Gamper said.

“Second, enforce your rules. “Countries know what to do.”


Derek Gatopoulos reported from Athens, Greece. Hernan Muñoz Ratto contributed to this report from Barcelona, ​​Spain.


Follow Ciarán Giles at and Derek Gatopoulos


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