Europe has lost 200 000 hectares of forest to fires this summer, a higher rate of attrition than last year, and national governments must act as global warming takes its toll, the EU warned on Monday.
“During the next few days the fire danger will remain very high in many Mediterranean areas,” the European Commission warned.
So far this summer, Spain and Italy have been most affected because of the extreme fire weather conditions in the second half of July.
France and, to a lesser extent, Greece and Portugal have also suffered significant damage, figures by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) show.
The figures pour cold water on hopes that the forest fire problem was decreasing.
Forest fire damage in 2008 was the lowest on record with a reported total of 158 621 hectares affected.
Last year’s favourable meteorological conditions led to lower fire levels around the Mediterranean, with a few exceptions recorded in the South East, parts of which suffered drought conditions
However countries such as Sweden and Norway, which suffered its worst forest fire on record, were surprised by the extent of the problem.
Global warming risks exacerbating the problem, the commission said. The fire season, which runs from June to September, has been getting longer with infernos as early as March. Some experts predict the problem is set to get significantly worse in southern Europe.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm said it was up to the 27 member states to seek to minimise the problem which has social, environmental and economic implications.
“We can offer financial support, help with coordination but in terms of prevention, the nations are in charge. It’s up to them to prepare the ground, to organise the water reservoirs, said Dr Andrea Camia of the EU’s Joint Research Centre.
The European Union has nonetheless taken the first step to building up a trans-European resource to tackle forest fires.
Last year it bought two Canadair CL-215 water bombers for the embryonic European Forest Fire Tactical Reserve based in hot-spot Corsica.