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Staggering amount of land torched by wildfires in two simple graphs

According to data from the European Commission, wildfires have scorched a record number of EU land areas this year. One of its senior fire investigators warns that climate change is spreading the danger of wildfires to more countries.

More than 6800 fires had sparked more than 750,000 hectares in Europe’s Union as of 17 August. This is more than a third the area of Wales. It has engulfed homes, crops and livelihoods.

The fires that erupted and the area they burned were greater than those in 2017. 2017 was the worst year ever recorded, with fires consuming more than 1 million hectares and more than 130 people losing their lives.

However, the most deadly and dramatic fires of 2017 occurred in October. Therefore, “we need to wait till the end of this year to see how the years evolve”, Dr Jesus San-Miguel-Ayanz (senior researcher at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, coordinator of EFFIS wildfire monitoring program) said.


He said that the fire danger has increased to new heights due to persistent dry weather since winter and early heatwaves in May.

These fires are “really unusual”.

Researchers “foresaw a complex [wildfire] season” when dry and hot weather continued into the summer. But the reality was “even more acute,” he stated.

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According to a study last year, climate change has made parts of the Iberian peninsula their driest since 1,200 years.

Month in Nature Geoscience journal.

Portugal had more than 1,200 firefighters, nine water bombing planes and more than 1,000 water bombers fighting a wildfire for several weeks. In Spain wildfires have already engulfed more than 275,000 hectares.

Climate breakdown, however, is driving the fire danger northwards through Europe. It disrupts rainfall patterns and drives up temperatures, said Dr San-Miguel-Ayanz.

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He said that fires this year in places as far north as the UK and Norway are a “clear sign” that “areas which weren’t affected previously are now affected”.

He said that better information and preparedness could reduce the number of casualties and damage caused by fires.

Image The fire numbers rose in March as the vegetation was cleared for agriculture and then again in summer when tinderbox conditions were created

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Wildfires are a great way to release large amounts of carbon dioxide from trees and vegetation.

Normaly, emissions make only a small contribution to the total country’s total. Dr San-Miguel-Ayanz said that the emissions could make up to a third or more of the total in years like these.

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