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Estimates from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) show that 200 000 hectares of land in the EU have already burnt in 2009. The 2008 total was 180 000.
EFFIS continuously monitors the forest fire risk, which at present is still high, and has just released the ‘Forest Fires in Europe 2008‘ – ninth of a series – report providing a comprehensive overview of the forest fire danger conditions and impact of forest fires in Europe for 2008.
EFFIS uses satellite images to produce daily updated maps of areas burnt by forest fires of at least 40 hectares in size. The area of mapped fires corresponds on average to 75% of the total burnt area which includes fires smaller than 40 hectares. The burnt area mapped so far in 2009 in the EU is 150 076 hectares, which corresponds to an estimated total burnt area of about 200 000 hectares.
This year, Spain and Italy have been most affected because of the extreme fire weather conditions in the second half of July, but also France and, to a lesser extent, Greece and Portugal suffered significant damage. Several unusual fire episodes occurred in March in Portugal and North-West Spain where, helped by dry weather conditions and strong winds, an estimated area of about 25 000 hectares was burnt.
During the next few days the fire danger will remain very high in many Mediterranean areas, and locally may result in extreme conditions, but it will not reach the end of July alert levels, according to current forecasts.
This year’s numbers look higher because 2008 was also lowest year on record. With a reported total of 158 621 hectares – compared to an annual average of 483 896 hectares – the burnt area and damage assessed in 2008 have been the lowest on record since 1980 for Southern Europe. Last year’s favourable meteorological conditions led to low fire danger levels around the Mediterranean with a few exceptions recorded in the South-East where drought conditions and a few extreme fire danger episodes caused a 1 362 hectare fire on the 18 th June in Cyprus, about 15 000 hectares burned in Greece (mostly in Rhodes) in the second half of July and almost 20 000 hectares burned in Turkey in the first week of August.
In other parts of Europe the impact of forest fires was also below the average of the last 15 years with 22 000 hectares compared to an average of 30 000 hectares. Only Scandinavian countries experienced extreme episodes due to unusual drought and high temperatures during the first half of June (a 13 day fire in Sweden burned 1 170 hectares of forest, and a record fire in Norway burned more than 2 700 hectares – the largest fire in the country for the last 50 years).