Europe’s 2019 wildfires already exceed last year’s blazes

A firefighter looks at a wildfire near Genoa, Italy, 26 March 2019. [Photo: EPA-EFE/LUCA ZENNARO]

Wildfires have burned more land in Europe in the first part of 2019 than in the whole of 2018, according to data by the European Union’s joint research centre (JRC).

At this pace, this year could match 2017’s record as the worst year for fires in Europe, where massive infernos in Italy, Portugal and Spain burned more than 800,000 hectares of land.

According to the JRC, this year’s fire season has started early and has already laid waste to 250,000 hectares of land. In 2018, the total for the year was just 181,000 and the season only really kicked off in June.

Blazes have raged along Spain’s northern coast and in the Pyrenees, while parts of the United Kingdom and large parts of the Balkans have endured wildfires already.

Wildfires trap 2,000 villagers in Portugal

Forest fires cut off a village of 2,000 people in Portugal, as firefighters struggled on Thursday (17 August) to control two major blazes in the centre of the country, local officials said.

The JRC’s European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) monitored 1,233 fires that burned 30 hectares or more, up to the end of April. That far outstrips the 1,192 fires recorded in 2018 and the ten-year-average of just 115 for this time of the year.

More countries are at risk of wildfires than before, as Germany, Latvia, Sweden and the UK have joined the list of member states that have had to deal with blazes for decades.

Last year, firefighters from across Europe convened in the Arctic Circle under an EU disaster relief scheme, as high temperatures and dry conditions turned parts of Finland and Sweden into tinderboxes.

EU’s hero firefighters head north to fight blazes

The European Union has successfully coordinated a mass effort to fight the wildfires raging in the Arctic Circle, dispatching planes and firefighters in what has been dubbed “solidarity in action”.

EFFIS and the EU’s earth observatory satellite system, Copernicus, are among the tools used by the bloc to keep tabs on wildfires and issue recommendations.

Member states are currently able to get funding in return for making their firefighting resources, including personnel and aircraft, available for cross-border operations.

Wildfires are among the natural disasters exacerbated by climate change that are costing Europe’s economy dear, according to the European Environment Agency.

In April, the agency concluded that fires, floods heatwaves and other climate-related extremes caused economic losses of €453 billion between 1980 and 2017, claiming the lives of more than 115,000 people across Europe, on average around 3,100 a year.

The nearly half-trillion euros in damages is roughly equivalent to Belgium’s total gross domestic product.

Extreme weather cost Europe nearly half a trillion euros so far

Floods, droughts, heatwaves and other climate-related extremes caused economic losses of €453 billion between 1980 and 2017, claiming the lives of more than 115,000 people across Europe.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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