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WILDFIRES

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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CLIMATE CRISIS

France destroys seaside flats threatened by coastal erosion

French authorities on Friday started demolishing a seaside block of flats that has come to symbolise the country's battle against climate change-linked coastal erosion.

France destroys seaside flats threatened by coastal erosion

When the four-storey building was built behind the beach in the southwestern Gironde region in 1967, it stood 200 metres away from the shoreline.

But its 75 or so flats in the town of Soulac-sur-Mer had to be evacuated in 2014 after the sea crept up to within 20 metres of the structure.

Local authorities scrambled to rid the building of asbestos in the following years, before a huge mechanical digger took a swing at its facade on Friday, as several former residents looked on.

“It’s the memories of four generations” that are being destroyed, said 76-year-old Vincent Duprat, one of the home owners.

The sea “has taken back what is rightfully hers”.

MAP The French towns at urgent risk from coastal erosion

Environment Minister Christophe Bechu said the demolition was a sign of “what the rising waters and coastal erosion have is store for lots of other areas along the French coastline”.

By 2100, 20 percent of the coastline and up to 50,000 homes would be affected, he said.

Erosion is a natural phenomenon that has helped shape our continents over millennia.

But scientists say it is being accelerated by the warming of the planet, exacerbated by rising sea levels brought about by melting ice caps and glaciers, and by the more powerful waves that warmer oceans hold.

The sandy beaches of the Bay of Biscay between France and Spain are expected to recede by 50 metres by 2050, the Observatory of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Coastline says.

But climate change and rising sea levels could increase this by an extra 20 metres in some areas, the Observatory’s Nicolas Bernon said.

In 2020, after a seven-year legal battle, a court ruled that French authorities should compensate families who had been forced to evacuate the building in Soulac-sur-Mer to the tune of 70 percent of the original value of their homes.

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