Forest fires in Europe burn an area equivalent to a fifth of Belgium | Forest fires

Across Europe, an area equivalent to a fifth of Belgium has been ravaged by blazes as successive oppressive heat waves and historic drought propel the continent into what experts say will be a record year for destruction by forest fires.

According data from the European Forest Fire Information System (Effis)659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) of land burned across the continent between January and mid-August, the most at this time of year since records began in 2006.

This figure is 56% higher than the previous record of 2017. Then, 420,913 hectares burned over the same period, and 988,087 were consumed at the end of the year. Based on current trends, more than one million hectares could be lost to forest fires this year.

The total area of ​​land burned in Europe so far this year is double the average for 2006-2021, according to Effis data, while the cumulative number of fires is more than four times the average over the same period.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season”, said the EFFIS coordinator , Jesus San-Miguel.

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While fire seasons in the EU have historically been “mainly driven by countries in the Mediterranean region”, since 2010 fires have broken out in central and northern countries which “do not normally experience fires on their territory”. territory,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Spain has so far been the hardest hit, losing 244,924 hectares, followed by Romania (150,528) and Portugal (77,292). More than 60,000 hectares have burned in France, twice less than the 43,600 it lost over the whole of 2019, its previous record.

The figures were released days after the EU’s Copernicus atmosphere monitoring service (Cams) – which provides the satellite data used by Effis – warned last week that much of western Europe was in “extreme” or “very extreme” fire danger.

The service said total daily fire radiative power – a measure of the intensity of ongoing fires – was significantly higher in France, Spain and Portugal than the average for July and August, while carbon emissions forest fires broke all records in France and Spain.

French media said President Emmanuel Macron would soon meet with firefighters and officials to discuss wildfire strategies after emergency crews managed to bring a large blaze in the southwest under control over the weekend. from the Gironde.

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The Landiras fire, which reignited last week after destroying 14,000 hectares in July, had burned a further 7,600 hectares, forcing the evacuation of 10,000 people. But fire crews were still battling fires in Brittany and the eastern Jura.

Portugal said on Saturday it had also brought a major forest fire that had been burning for a week in the UNESCO-designated Serra da Estrela natural park under control, and a fire on the Czech-German border was also extinguished. this week-end.

But in Spain, a fire in northeastern Spain spiraled out of control on Sunday, destroying around 8,000 hectares and forcing the evacuation of eight villages and 1,500 people in Zaragoza province, authorities said.

According to data from Effis, the total area of ​​land that has burned in wildfires so far this year is nearly four times the country‘s annual average of 66,965 hectares since 2006, when records began.

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