Europe Wildfire Risk Heightened by Early Heat Waves, Drought
Europe Wildfire Risk Heightened by Early Heat Waves, Drought

Europe Wildfire Risk Heightened by Early Heat Waves, Drought

Madrid, 22 Jun (ONA) --- Extended drought conditions in several Mediterranean countries, a heat wave last week that reached northern Germany and high fuel costs for aircraft needed to fight wildfires have heightened concerns across Europe this summer.

“Much of the continent is in drought,” said Cathelijne Stoof, an environmental science professor at the Netherlands’ Wageningen University, who called the wildfire outlook “very challenging across Europe.”

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

And, experts say, Europe’s wildfires aren’t just a problem for the southern, hotter countries.

“What scientists are warning us is that (fires) are obviously going north and in countries such as the UK, in countries such as Germany as well as in Scandinavian countries, in the future, we need to expect wildfires to happen more often,” said Catherine Gamper, a climate change adaptation specialist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Wildfires across Spain have destroyed tens of thousands of acres of wooded land, though a recent sharp drop in temperatures is helping firefighters contain them.

Spain’s problems began with the arrival in spring of the earliest heat wave in two decades. Temperatures as high as those normally recorded in August rose above 40 C (104 F) in many Spanish cities.

Neighboring Portugal also saw its warmest May 2022 in nine decades, and in France the month was the hottest on record.

“As a result of climate change, heat waves are starting earlier and are becoming more frequent and more severe because of record concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases,” the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said last week.

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

Despite the extensive planning, early-warning surveillance, and prediction models, preparing for wildfires remains a huge challenge. The EU is expanding a shared pool of planes and helicopters on standby this summer to provide cross-border support and is expected to partner with more nations outside the bloc.

In Greece, which suffered some of Europe’s most devastating fires last August 2021, local authorities say higher fuel costs have added to challenges facing the fire service, which relies heavily on water-dropping planes to battle blazes in the mountainous country.

Greece will begin using fire retardant chemicals in water drops in 2022, while the EU is sending more than 200 firefighters and equipment from France, Germany and four other countries to Greece to remain throughout the summer.

--- Ends/Khalid