Fires have eaten through roughly 0.6 percent of Europe’s Mediterranean forests each year from 2009 to 2018, a recent report from six country offices of global conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has shown, warning that fires are increasing in frequency and virulence.
Titled “The Mediterranean Burns” and written by the local offices of France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey, the study reported that 80 percent of fires in Europe take place in its Mediterranean area, with the six countries accounting for 56,000 wildfires in the period from 2009 to 2018.
Most worryingly, 96 percent of the fires in the area are caused by humans: 40 percent as a result of negligence and 26 percent deliberately, with the remaining 28 percent of unknown motivation.
“Ever more frequently, the conditions are perfect for fire crises that are difficult to keep under control, resulting in major environmental and economic damage, and severe risks for human life,” the report said.
Between 2000 and 2016, fires claimed 488 firefighter and civilian lives across the six countries, with the toll in 2017 and 2018 alone at 225 just in Portugal, Spain and Greece.
The economic cost of wildfires in Europe as a whole, moreover, is estimated by WWF at around 3 billion euros a year and is expected to climb to at least 5 billion euros in 2070-2100 for Greece, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal alone as a result of climate change and other factors.
The report also found that the cost of managing forest fires in the Mediterranean comes to around 2 billion euros, though just 20 percent of that amount goes toward prevention.
The increased frequency and virulence of fires, the report says, is due to a more “flammable landscape” resulting from the abandonment of rural areas and traditional forest uses, increased “urban” uses of rural space (recreation, transport, vacation, suburbanization) and what WWF calls a “fire culture,” in which people use fire as an agrarian management tool or for recreation.
Foremost, however, are the cumulative effects of global warming, creating the “circumstances for true firestorms.”