x

Society

Europe Wildfire Risk Heightened by Early Heat Waves, Drought

MADRID — 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.

And it’s only June.

“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.

FILE – A view of the burned landscape after forest fires affected the area near to Miranda de Arga, northern Spain, Thursday, June 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos, File)

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 U.K., 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.

A firefighter works in front of flames during a wildfire in the Sierra de la Culebra in the Zamora Provence on Saturday June 18, 2022. (Emilio Fraile/Europa Press via AP)

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 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 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.

“It’s very difficult to predict wildfires,” said Marta Arbinolo, an OECD policy analyst and climate adaptation and resilience specialist.

FILE, A firefighter plane drops a fire retardant on a burning area of San Martin de Unx in northern Spain, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Miguel Oses, File)

“We do know that summer (of) 2022 is predicted by weather forecasts to be particularly warm and dry, possibly even more than 2020 or ’21, which was the driest and warmest summer in Europe,” she said. “We can expect that the risk of wildfires in Europe for the summer might be very high.”

In Greece, which suffered some of Europe’s most devastating fires last August, 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 this year, 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.

Wildfire seasons are also getting longer.

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

“The main changes we are seeing with climate change is a longer duration of fire seasons.”

Laura Vilagra, a senior Catalonia government official, told a regional conference that fire prevention measures this season could include park closures.

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

FILE, A view of the burned landscape after forest fires affected the area near to Miranda de Arga, northern Spain, Thursday, June 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos, File)

Resco foresees a bleak future in Spain, arguing that areas currently affected by fires “probably will not experience many fires by the turn of the century. Why? Because forests would be very scarce. There would be nothing left to burn.”

Other experts aren’t as grim.

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

“The core is the need for integrated fire management, attention to fires all year round rather than just when it is dry, and investment in landscape management,” Stoof said.

Gamper appealed for two things she said would have a major impact. First, reconsider urban planning by not building near forests of extreme risk.

“I think our first sort of appeal to countries is really to think about where you continue to settle,” Gamper said.

“Second of all, enforce your regulations. Countries know what to do.”

 

RELATED

ATHENS - There was keen investor interest in acquiring a 27 percent stake in Piraeus Bank from Greece’s bank bailout fund, which was oversubscribed as it will be the third of the country’s four biggest banks to be fully privatized.

Top Stories

Columnists

A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.

Video

Nikki Haley Wins the District of Columbia’s Republican Primary and Gets Her First 2024 Victory

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nikki Haley has won the Republican primary in the District of Columbia, notching her first victory of the 2024 campaign.

‘Apokries’ or Carnival features merriment and meat-eating before the start of Great Lent.

Books of every kind are sent in to the offices of The National Herald, showcasing the impressive range of experience and interests of Greek authors wherever they happen to live.

BALTIMORE, MD – The law firm of Peter Angelos was sold to three of the firm’s longtime senior attorneys on March 1, as ordered by a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge, The Daily Record (TDR) reported, noting that “Judge Keith R.

NICOSIA (AP) — Decades on from the ethnic division of Cyprus, tensions persist along the 180-kilometer buffer zone separating breakaway Turkish Cypriots from Greek Cypriots in the internationally recognized south, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping force on the island said Monday.