Forest fires hit record number of countries in 2018

forest fire
©iStock/MonumentalDoom

The European Commission has produced its annual report on the frequency and impact of forest fires in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

The report, which focuses on outbreaks of forest fires during 2018, notes that nearly 178,000 hectares of land in the EU were destroyed by wildfires throughout the year. While this is lower than the long term average and represents a reduction of more than five sixths compared to 2017, the report highlights that more individual countries experienced forest fires in 2018 than ever before.

Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, responsible for the Joint Research Centre, said: “Changing weather conditions associated with climate change increase the risk for forest fires globally. We need to respond and step up our efforts to make our forests more resilient to a warmer and drier climate. Evidence provided by the Joint Research Centre allows us to focus on the most effective ways to prevent wildfires, helping us protect our forests, which is key to preserve biodiversity and citizens’ quality of life.”

The Commission’s report found that the most destructive forest fires of 2018 occurred in Portugal and Sweden; while fires broke out with the highest frequency in Italy (147 fires), Spain (104 fires) and Portugal (86 fires). The outbreak and spread of fires across the EU was exacerbated by above average temperatures throughout the bloc; and the report cautions that ‘fire season’ began earlier than usual in 2019 due to dry and windy weather conditions.

Commissioner for Environment Karmenu Vella said: “Forests are vital to our efforts to tackle the climate and ecological emergency. They are our lungs and life support system, hosting 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity. But today, like never before, they are under severe threat. 800 football fields of forest are lost every hour, and devastating fires are raging around the world. As we have shown with our recent action on deforestation, the EU stands ready to work with partner countries to protect forests in the EU and across the world through investing in forest fire prevention.”

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