Today, the Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC) published the latest edition of its annual report on forest fires in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa in 2021.
It concludes that last year’s fire season was the second worst in EU territory in terms of area burned (since records began in 2006), after 2017 when more than 10,000 km² burned.
Over 5,500 km² of land burned in 2021 – more than double the size of Luxembourg – with over 1,000 km² burned in Natura 2000 protected areas, the EU’s biodiversity reservoir.
The report does not yet cover this year’s fires, which were even more destructive than those of 2021. Annual reports allow past fire seasons to be used as a reference when analyzing preliminary impact data. of the current year’s forest fires.
From this perspective, 2022 promises to be even worse, confirming the worrying destructive trend of recent years. Indeed, an area of 8,600 km² has already burned this year.
It was one of the largest areas scorched by forest fires in Europe at the end of October, setting new scorched records in 9 EU countries.
In total, since the worst fire season on record in 2017, 35,340 km² – an area larger than Belgium – has been scorched by forest fires. About 35% of the total burned area, more than 11,600 km², was in the Natura 2000 network area.
Although the area burned by forest fires has been remarkably extended in 2022, the number of human victims has been contained thanks to the prevention measures implemented by EU Member States and the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. EU.
In 2021, the EU has further strengthened the capacity of this mechanism by increasing aerial firefighting assets to support countries during this fire season. This support was widely used during the fires that hit the Mediterranean region in 2021 and 2022.
This enhanced capacity is coordinated by the Emergency Response Coordination Center of the Commission’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Operations Service.
The Joint Research Center offers support by providing timely information on ongoing fires, helping to deploy EU-funded air assets to where they are most needed.
Main findings of the report
- In 2021, fires were mapped in 22 of the 27 EU member states, burning 500,566 hectares (ha) in total, more than the around 340,000 ha in 2020 but far from the million hectares in 2017
- The 2021 wildfire report shows that Italy was the most affected country in terms of area burned, followed by Turkey, Portugal and Greece, especially in August, as highlighted in national reports
- Forest fires have seriously affected European Natura 2000 protected sites: the total area burned in 2021 was 102,598 ha (about 20% of the total area of all Natura 2000 sites), less than the last 2 years and slightly up. below the average of the last 10 years
- In 2021, Italy accounted for nearly a quarter of the total area burned in Natura 2000 sites, followed closely by Spain, which together accounted for 45% of the total area
- In southern EU countries with longer recording periods, areas burned have doubled compared to 2020 and this is the second worst year since 1986 in terms of average fire size. The total number of fires was the lowest on record, meaning there were far fewer but larger fires
- The EU Civil Protection Mechanism was upgraded with rescEU in 2019, further strengthening its ability to help countries during this fire season in 2021 and extended in 2022 for the 2023 fire campaign
- This year alone, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has been activated 11 times by 6 countries requesting planes, helicopters and firefighters. This is the second year with more requests made to the Mechanism over the past decade.