Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Firefighters douse smouldering rubbles in a burnt house in spain
Firefighters douse smouldering rubbles in a burnt house after a wildfire in the Valle del Arlanza, near Burgos in Spain on July 25, 2022. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.


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Why are there so many ‘red’ pollen alerts this year in France?

By the end of May, 90 of France's 96 mainland départements had been placed on 'red' alert for elevated levels of pollen.

Why are there so many 'red' pollen alerts this year in France?

Almost all – 90 out of 96 – of France’s mainland départements – have been placed on red alert for high pollen counts and risk of allergy symptoms, according to France’s National Aerobioligical Monitoring Network (Réseau national de surveillance aérobiologique, or RNSA).

The remaining départements, mostly located in France’s west, were Finistère, Morbihan, Ille-et-Vilaine, Mayenne, Orne and Sarthe, and they were placed on the ‘yellow’, or medium alert. 

The RNSA updated their note on Monday saying that all départements are expected to be affected by high pollen counts and elevated allergy risks this week.

“Grass pollens are gaining strength from the south to the north of the country”, RNSA wrote. 

This year, there were pollen alerts issued in the later months of winter, which is unusual for the season, and anecdotally, people across France have noticed more severe allergy symptoms than typically.

“Usually, it’s not as bad, but this year, I really feel that it’s different here. There’s a lot more pollen and I feel it in my itchy nose, my itchy throat,” one woman told TF1 channel on Monday.

Experts point to May weather as the culprit for high pollen counts this year. A representative from the RNSA told the TF1 channel that rain at the start of May “brought some respite to those who suffer from allergies by pressing the pollen into the ground, but now they have led to more grass growth”. With recent sunny weather, there has been more dispersion of grass pollen throughout the air, according to the organisation.

Other experts, like Samuel Monnier at the RNSA, explained to TF1 that climate change has impacted high pollen counts. Birch, a highly allergenic tree, has seen its pollen counts have jumped by 20 percent in the last 30 years.

“This is linked to climate change, and in particular to rising temperatures and CO2 concentrations, which are two key factors that increase the amount of pollen emitted by trees.

“It also leads to flowering earlier and pollen seasons being lengthened”, Monnier told TF1.

In urban areas, pollution can also worsen allergy symptoms, allergist Dr. Marie-Laure Megret-Gabeaud told TF1.

Experts recommend that those who suffer from allergies take simple steps, such as avoiding outdoor sports, rinsing and brushing hair often to remove pollen, and airing out the home prior to sunrise and after sunset.