New Delhi: Forest fires are ravaging Europe like never before. Temperatures are at an all-time high, heatwaves have led to thousands of fatalities and hospitalisations, and wildfires have caused massive displacement across countries. The death toll due to heatwave and forest fires has crossed 1,500 so far, with Portugal alone accounting for over 1,000 fatalities. Wildfires have forced tens of thousands to flee their homes, as governments continue to deploy more and more resources to tackle the ever-spiralling blaze and carry out mass evacuation of residents and tourists.
Since the start of this year, more than 1,750 forest fires have been recorded across the European Union till July 16. That is a whopping 273 per cent higher than the average around this time between 2006 and 2021. Forest fires this year have destroyed thrice the area in Spain, four times the area in France, and almost eight times the area in Germany compared to their 15-year average. (ALSO READ: As heat wave sweeps Europe, sets record-high temperatures in Britain, UN warns it should be a ‘wake-up call’)
At 354,934 hectares, Ukraine suffered the highest loss to forest cover, but it is more due to Russian bombardment than natural causes. Its 2006-21 average was a mere 17,674 hectares. Wildfires destroyed 182,497 hectares in Spain this year alone, compared to its earlier 15-year average of 66,965 hectares, according to European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).
|*Area in hectares|
(Source: EFFIS & Statista)
The corresponding figures are 149,264 and 14,313 hectares for Romania; 39,904 and 9,825 hectares for France; 30,889 and 13,113 hectares for Croatia; and 3,209 and 417 hectares for Germany. Forest fires have also destroyed 44,839 hectares in Portugal; 24,698 hectares in Italy; and 6,172 hectares in Greece this year, according to EFFIS.
On July 19, the temperature crossed 40C for the first time in the United Kingdom, while Germany saw its hottest day of the year, forcing the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization to warn that the worst is yet to come.
Scientists blame climate change for the heatwave across Europe. While greenhouse gases are raising temperatures, a warmer and thirstier atmosphere is drying out the soil, so that more of the sun’s energy is available to heat the ground rather than evaporating water, they say.
Another factor is the high-pressure system ‘Azores High’ that usually sits off Spain. It has grown larger and pushed farther north, bringing high temperatures to the UK, France and Iberian Peninsula. Also, the CO2 build-up from burning fossil fuels has made heat waves more intense and frequent across the globe, including in Europe.