Forest fires have burned a record 700,000 hectares in the EU so far this year – the biggest amount since records began.
“We are facing a difficult summer in Europe, with so far for this year more than 700,000 hectares burned, the highest value at this time of the year since 2006,” said Janez Lenarcic, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.
The area of 700,000 hectares is nearly three times the size of Luxembourg or roughly the same size as Azerbaijan.
Figures from European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) show that Spain has been the most heavily impacted so far with more than 283,000 hectares burned. It is followed by Romania (150,735), Portugal (86,631), France (62,102), and Italy (42,835).
The number of fires has also shot up in recent years with more than 2,300 fires recorded across the bloc by mid-August, well above the average over the 2006-2021 period of 1,349 fires.
Climate change has increased the likelihood and severity of wildfires across Europe. This year, many of the fires were fuelled by several heatwaves and facilitated by a drought the European Commission Joint Research Centre said could be the worst in 500 years.
According to the European Commission, over the past two months, 29 aircraft and eight helicopters have been deployed across the bloc through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, which is a way for EU countries to share resources during emergency situations.
Faced with this new reality, the European Commission has committed to finance the purchase by member states of 12 new firefighting aircraft but the first ones are not expected to become operational before 2026 with all scheduled to be online by 2029.
The current EU reserve to combat forest fire is this year composed of 12 firefighting aircraft and one helicopter that are loaned by Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Sweden.
Large fire in Portuguese natural park ‘under control’
Authorities in Portugal say a large forest fire in the Serra da Estrela natural park has been brought “under control”.
The fire had been raging in the central part of the country since 6 August and flared up again on Monday due to strong winds.
But Portugal’s National Civil Protection Authority said on Thursday that the fire was experiencing a lull, although it has not yet been extinguished.
“It is still possible and very likely that it will reactivate again, but we hope that they do not take on worrying proportions,” civil protection commander Miguel Oliveira told TSF radio.
Nearly a thousand firefighters were still mobilised on the ground on Thursday morning.
The blaze has burned around 25,000 hectares of forest in the mountain ranges in the UNESCO-recognised natural park, and smoke travelled 400 kilometres away to the Spanish capital, Madrid.
Portugal has experienced a record drought this summer and is preparing for another heatwave and more potential wildfires from Saturday.
Giorgio Armani forced to flee Sicilian villa amid wildfire
Around 30 people have been forced to evacuate their homes on a popular tourist island near Sicily as firefighters tackled two blazes on Thursday.
Regional authorities suspect that arson may have caused one of the blazes on Pantelleria and have appealed for information. No buildings have been reported as damaged so far.
Among those evacuated was renowned fashion designer Giorgio Armani, who took his guests to a boat in the harbour overnight.
Images showed flames appearing to reach his villa, but Armani’s press office said the fire had stopped short of the property.
The island’s mayor, Vincenzo Campo, told the ANSA news agency two Canadair planes were working on putting out the last flames on difficult terrain and that the wind had dropped off.
“After the great fear of last evening and the night spent at work, Pantelleria is returning to normal,” Campo said. “It seems the worst is over.”
Moscow covered in smoke from forest fire
Moscow was also blanketed in smog on Thursday after a major forest fire broke out around 250 kilometres east of the Russian capital.
According to the Russian emergency ministry, 470 firefighters and 175 vehicles — including three planes and helicopters — were deployed to extinguish the fires in the Ryazan region.
On Telegram, the acting governor of the region said that at least 800 hectares had been burned by the flames, but NGOs say up to 3,000 hectares may be affected.
“There is a high probability that it is burning due to human action,” the NGO Greenpeace said in a statement. “The persistent heat and dryness are creating favourable conditions for the fire to spread.”
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