Europe has a record-breaking summer burned by fires | Environment

With the high fire season still under way, the provisional balance of burned hectares in Europe has risen to 660,000 since January, a record for this time of year since satellite data began to be collected in 2006.

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

The area most affected by the fires was 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 has 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 were burned.

Fire in Serra da Estrela, near Covilha, Portugal. — Photo: AP/Francisco Seco

France saw even worse years in the 1970s, before standardized data were established at the European level.

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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 from German, Polish and Austrian firefighters were needed. .

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

A firefighter tries to contain blazes in Landiras as forest fires spread in the Girondia region of southwestern France. — Photo: Disclosure / Reuters

With no planes specializing in firefighting, 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 considering the purchase of its first tanker aircraft.

If only the summer period is considered, “2022 is already a record year”, explains Jesús San Miguel, coordinator of EFFIS, to AFP. The previous record in Europe dates from 2017, when 420,913 hectares burned by 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.

The exceptional drought that plagues Europe, added to the heat waves, is a devastating formula. Until now, these extreme dry conditions were observed mainly in the Mediterranean, and now “it happens in Central Europe”, points out Jesús San Miguel.

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

A firefighter works in front of the flames during one of the wildfires that hit Europe in 2022. — Photo: Emilio Fraile/Europa Press via AP

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. However, continued climate warming across Europe threatens to accentuate the trend.

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