European Commission’s latest Annual Report on Forest Fires in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa

On 31st October 2019, the European Commission published its latest Annual Report on Forest Fires in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, covering the year 2018. According to the report (which can be downloaded at the first web-link below), during 2018 wildfires destroyed nearly 178,000 hectares (ha) of forests and land in the EU. While this is less than a sixth of the area burnt in the previous year (2017), and less than the long-term average, more countries than ever before suffered from large fires in 2018.


Key findings of the latest Annual Report on Forest Fires:


* Sweden had its worst fire season in reporting history in 2018. The total burnt area of over 21,605 ha mapped in Sweden was the second highest in the EU - an unusual ranking for a northern country. Although Portugal was again the country with the highest burnt area, its total was a small fraction of the area lost to fire in 2017 and one of the lowest totals of the last 10 years.


* Vulnerable ecosystems of the Natura 2000 network - home to several endangered plant and animal species - lost 50,000 ha to fires, accounting for 36% of the total burnt area in 2018.


* Despite a smaller overall area burnt than in previous years, above average temperatures persisted in central and northern Europe for most of the summer of 2018. This created conditions that helped the ignition and spread of forest fires, causing high economic and environmental losses.


The EU’s Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) was activated five times in 2018 to respond to forest fires in Europe (in Sweden, Greece, Latvia, and Portugal). In total, 15 planes, 6 helicopters and over 400 firefighters were mobilised in the summer of 2018, with the EU funding €1.6 million in transportation costs to mobilise support to affected countries. Furthermore, over 139 Copernicus satellite maps on forest fires were produced at the request of Member States. In addition, the EU sent forest fire experts from across the EU to Portugal on a prevention and preparedness mission, to help boost the country's capacity to deal with forest fires.


In March 2019, as part of the upgraded UCPM, a new European reserve of capacities - “RescEU” - was launched, in order to complement existing national capacities, and improve further the protection of citizens from disasters and the management of emerging risks in Europe and beyond. In the summer of 2019, the EU created a transition fleet of firefighting aircraft, which was deployed in 2019 to fight forest fires in Greece and Lebanon, for example. Additionally, in July 2019, the European Commission published a comprehensive Communication (see web-link below) calling for the stepping up of EU action on global deforestation and forest degradation, and committed itself to further action, including the development of the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) into a tool for wildfire monitoring on a global scale.


The report "Forest Fires in Europe, Middle East and North Africa 2018” also notes that the 2019 fire season started early, due to dry and windy conditions, with high temperatures. Already by March 2019, the number of fires was higher than the average for a whole year during the last decade, with numerous fires in mountain regions and critical fires in the Danube delta.


The Commission’s Annual Report on Forest Fires 2018 was prepared and published by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) in collaboration with other Directorate-Generals (DGs) of the Commission, including DG ENV, DG CLIMA, DG GROW and DG ECHO, and the national wildfire administrations of 33 countries out of the 43 countries that constitute the Commission’s Expert Group on Forest Fires (EGFF).


Jesús San-Miguel-Ayanz

European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC)


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