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Europe on course for new wildfire record this year: EU monitor

The European Union is on track for a record wildfire season, the bloc’s fire monitoring service warned.

Successive heat waves — part of a warming trend driven by climate change — and persistent lack of rainfall have turned much of Europe into a tinderbox this summer, allowing fires to spread with ease.

Flames have ravaged nearly 660,000 hectares of EU land — an area more than twice the size of Luxembourg — since the beginning of 2022, according to the latest update from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

In 2017, the bloc’s worst wildfire year to date, about 420,000 hectares had been burnt by mid-August before a devastating October pushed it up to 988,087 hectares for the whole year. With the fire season far from over, the EFFIS warned that this year could set a new record.

This year so far is “just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesús San-Miguel told Agence France-Presse on Sunday. “The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season.”

Spain, Romania and Portugal are the worst affected EU members. France has also been hit hard, with more than 60,000 hectares burnt as of this week, far surpassing the country’s previous record of 43,600 hectares for the entire year of 2019.

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet with firefighters, farmers, EU emergency responders and officials to discuss future strategies for wildfire prevention and response once the fires have died down, according to the president’s team cited in Le Journal du Dimanche on Sunday.

Firefighters in France this weekend managed to halt the spread of a vast fire that ravaged 6,000 hectares of pine forest within 24 hours in the southwestern region of Gironde. Hundreds of firefighters from other EU countries had rushed to France’s aid over the past week to help contain the blaze.

But with Europe heating up, wildfires are increasingly erupting farther north, too. The EFFIS’s San-Miguel said that since 2010, there had been a trend toward more fires in central and northern Europe.

With this week’s heat wave subsiding and rain bringing some relief, EFFIS said on Sunday that the wildfire situation was showing some improvement, although the risk remains high for the Iberian Peninsula and from eastern France across Belgium into Germany.

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Nathalie Tocci is director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, Europe’s futures fellow at IWM, Vienna, and a board member of ENI. Her new book,...