Europe seeks solutions in response to catastrophic wildfires

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As wildfires ravage the Mediterranean region, many people ask whether such wildfires are an inevitable part of global warming or whether measures can be taken to reverse this trend.

The temperature in Italy reached a record 48.8 degrees Celsius last week. A huge heat wave triggered wildfires that destroyed large tracts of land in southern Europe and North Africa, from Turkey, Greece and Italy to Morocco and Algeria, and killed dozens of people.

“It is clear that climate change will allow us to see [more of] Such incidents,” French President Emmanuel Macron said after traveling to the Saint-Tropez region this week, where a fire broke out and 10,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Tom Smith, associate professor at the London School of Economics, said: “Climate change must now play a role in every wildfire on earth.” By drying the air and absorbing water from vegetation, the rising temperature creates an ideal for the occurrence and rapid spread of fires. condition.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the Mediterranean region will face more extreme high temperatures in the coming decades.

However, although climate change plays an indisputable role in the spread and scale of wildfires, people’s lifestyles and land use patterns have also changed. Human behavior is also the cause of most fires in Europe.

Most areas of Europe are fertile ground for fires, about 40% of the land is covered by treesAs the rural population moved to urban areas for employment, some cultivated land was converted to combustible vegetation and forests.

As of August 18, the European Forest Fire Information System has recorded more than 1,400 fires this year—more than 600 more than the most recent annual average.

Fire experts said that the most effective measures to reduce the incidence and severity of fires are to reduce the fuel they depend on for their livelihoods through effective land management, as well as to improve rapid response capabilities and raise public awareness.

On August 16, a fire raged in Navalmoral de la Sierra near Avila, Spain, and a helicopter sprinkled water

A huge forest fire broke out in the Avila area last weekend, which means that this season is contrary to the recent decrease in fires in Spain © Cesar Manso/AFP/Getty

“We really need to be prepared [as] These fires will continue to occur. We need to do something about climate change, but more importantly, we need to do something about the landscape,” said Cathelijne Stoof, an assistant professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

In recent weeks, hundreds of fires have swept through Greece and destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of forest. The government has been criticized for failing to prepare.

“For many years, Greek forests have been dictated by their destiny. They have become very dense, which is why they are highly flammable,” said Demetras Karavilas, CEO of the WWF Hellenic Conservation Organization. Demetres Karavellas) said. He added that Greece has almost no forests with a clear management plan, and the forestry sector “does not exist.”

After the wildfires in the summer of 2018 killed 103 people, the Greek government commissioned German scientists to write a report to determine the systemic problems they faced in wildfire preparations. Experts said that some of the recommendations in the report were ignored, even though Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mizotakis denied this last week, saying that he did not agree with all the conclusions of the report.

Elsewhere, progress has been made in preemptive land management. This includes the use of “tactical burns”, which are fires when the weather is milder, to remove dry surface vegetation before the fire season.

The line chart of the number of fires in EU countries shows that wildfires in Europe are more frequent this year

Spain is one of the European Union countries with the most forest land and is hailed as a success in preventive measures and emergency response. Despite rising temperatures and rural population exodus, these measures have enabled it to significantly reduce the number and average scale of forest fires.

The average number of fires in the country for ten consecutive years has been declining for more than a decade. During this period, only about one-third of the fires burned more than one hectare of land. In the 1980s, this figure exceeded 70%.

There was a huge forest fire in Avila last weekend, which means that this season is contrary to the recent trend in Spain. However, Guillermo Fernández Centeno, a senior official of the Ministry of the Environment, said: “In a given year, fires will always rise… But in terms of the ten-year average, we think Can’t reduce it further.”

He and others owe it to a higher public awareness and fire management system that can respond quickly in the early stages of a fire.

Pierre Carrega, an emeritus professor at the University of Nice, said that French authorities have also implemented policies to reduce fire risks. Pastures and roads have been paved in the woodland to act as “fire zones,” and people living in the forest are now required by law to clear the bushes around their houses-although this is not always respected.

A bubble chart comparing the number of hectares burned in 2021 in European countries with the annual average from 2008 to 2020.Fire losses in Italy and Greece are much larger than usual, while fire losses in Portugal are lower than historical data

In other parts of Europe, including the United Kingdom, ecologists have reintroduced animals to graze on abandoned farmland to prevent the accumulation of flammable vegetation.

Stoff in the Netherlands said she believes that further regional interventions should be taken. She believes that in rural areas in the Mediterranean, the government needs to invest in roads, high-speed internet and schools to attract people back to abandoned rural lands.

Although humans can help tame the landscape, they are responsible for the surrounding 96% of wildfires in the MediterraneanAccording to WWF’s analysis, the initial sparks usually start on the side of the road or on the outskirts of houses. Several people were also arrested on suspicion of arson related to the Greek fire.

Scientists still worry that the vast majority of investment is still used for suppression, not education and landscape management.

Carrega emphasized the need to improve education around the unexpected causes of fires. These preventive measures are always taken directly after a major disaster, but he said, “Try to relax little by little until the next fire in five or ten years.”

He added: “Forest fires were forgotten until they exploded.”

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