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Forest fire risk in Europe increased by early heat waves and drought

MADRID – Extended drought conditions in several Mediterranean countries, a heat wave last week that reached Northern Germany and high fuel costs for planes needed to fight wildfires have raised concerns across Europe this summer.

And it’s only June.

“Much of the continent is in drought,” said Cathelijne Stoof, a professor of environmental sciences at Holland’s Wageningen University, who described the wildfire outlook as “very challenging across Europe”.

Fires last summer have blackened more than 11,000 square kilometers (4,250 sq mi) of land – an area more than four times the size of Luxembourg. About half of the damage occurred in the European Union.

And according to experts, the forest fires in Europe are not only a problem for the southern, hotter countries.

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“What scientists are warning us is that (fires) are obviously going north and we can expect more frequent wildfires in the future in countries like the UK, in countries like Germany, as well as in Scandinavian countries,” said Catherine Gamper, a specialist in forest adaptation Climate Change at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Wildfires across Spain have destroyed tens of thousands of acres of forested land, albeit recently sharp drop in temperature helps firefighters contain them.

Spain’s problems didn’t begin until the spring arrival at the earliest heat wave in two decades. Temperatures, as high as those normally recorded in August, rose to over 40 °C (104 °F) in many Spanish cities.

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Neighboring Portugal also experienced the warmest May in nine decades, and France had the hottest month on record.

“As a result of climate change, heat waves are onset earlier and becoming more frequent and intense due to record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases,” the World Meteorological Organization said last week.

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

Despite extensive planning, early warning surveillance, and forecasting models, preparing for wildfires remains a major challenge. The EU is expanding a joint pool of planes 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 wildfires,” said Marta Arbinolo, an OECD policy analyst specializing in climate adaptation and resilience.

“We know that the summer of 2022 is predicted by weather forecasters to be particularly warm and dry, possibly even more so than 2020 or 21, which was the driest and warmest summer in Europe,” she said. “We can count on that. The risk of forest fires in Europe for the summer could be very high.”

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In Greece, which suffered some of the most devastating fires in Europe last August, authorities say higher fuel costs have added to challenges for firefighters, who rely heavily on water-shedding aircraft to fight the blazes in the mountainous country.

Greece will start using fire-retardant chemicals in waterdrops this year, while the EU is sending more than 200 firefighters and equipment from France, Germany and four other countries to Greece to stay through the summer.

The forest fire season is also getting longer.

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

“The most important changes we are seeing with climate change is a longer duration of the fire season.”

Laura Vilagra, a senior Catalan government official, told a regional conference that fire safety measures this season could include closing parks.

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“The weather is more adverse every year and the drought is very evident this year,” she said. “We expect a very complicated summer.”

Resco sees a bleak future in Spain, arguing that the areas currently affected by fires “are not likely to see many fires until the turn of the century. Why? Because forests would be very scarce. Nothing would burn anymore.”

Other experts are not so grim.

The OECD’s Gamper and Arbinolo point out that some of the worst fires have actually led to positive developments, such as the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, which facilitates rapid cooperation between countries in emergencies. They argue that European countries are also opening up to include risk reduction in their planning, rather than simply increasing their firefighting resources.

“At the core is the need for integrated fire management, paying attention to fires all year round and not just when it’s dry, and investing in landscaping,” Stoof said.

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Gamper appealed to two things that she said would have a major impact. First, reconsider city planning by not building near extreme risk forests.

“I think our first appeal to countries is to really think about where you continue to base yourself,” Gamper said.

“Second, enforce your regulations. The countries know what to do.”

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

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Follow Ciarán Giles below and Derek Gatopoulos

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https://www.local10.com/business/2022/06/22/europe-wildfire-risk-heightened-by-early-heat-waves-drought/ Forest fire risk in Europe increased by early heat waves and drought

Sarah Y. Kim

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