Europe's summer wildfires burn area larger than blazes throughout 2021

Across the EU, this year's fires have torched 517,881 hectares compared with 470,359 last year

A swimming pool burnt during a wildfire near the town of El Pont de Vilomara, Spain. AP
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The wildfires that have ripped through a swathe of Europe in recent weeks have burnt a larger area of land than was lost to blazes in all of 2021, the EU's satellite monitoring service said on Thursday.

As much of Europe sweltered in intense heatwaves, record temperatures also brought tinder-dry conditions that sparked fires across Spain, Portugal, France and others countries.

Across the bloc, fires this year, up to July 16, have torched 517,881 hectares — a little more than 5,000 square kilometres, or about the surface area of Trinidad and Tobago, the EFFIS monitor said. In all of 2021, 470,359 hectares (4,700 sq km) of forest were lost to wildfire, mainly in Italy and Greece.

In Spain, firefighters made progress on Thursday in the battle to contain dozens of wildfires, officials said.

A blaze near the north-east town of Ateca underwent a “positive” evolution, the regional government of Aragon said, after the evacuation of 17,000 people.

“There have been some flare-ups which have been stamped out,” the government tweeted.

“The return of the people who were evacuated to their homes is getting closer, but we must be prudent,” said Javier Lamban, head of Aragon government.

In the north-west province of Zamora, a huge blaze, which killed a fireman and a shepherd, was under control, regional officials said.

Temperatures hit 45°C in some Spanish regions. The July 9-July 18 heatwave was one of the most intense ever recorded in Spain in terms of geographic extension and duration. More than 500 people died.

A wildfire in mountains near Athens, which forced hundreds of people to flee and damaged swathes of property, has been brought under control, Greek authorities said.

The wildfire broke out 27km north of Athens and, fanned by gale-force winds, spread quickly to nearby urban districts — including Penteli and Anthousa.

EFFIS said Europe could end 2022 with more land burnt by area than 2017, currently the worst recorded year for wildfires with nearly 1,000,000 hectares (10,000 sq km) lost.

“The situation is much worse than expected, even if we were expecting temperature anomalies with our long-term forecasts,” EFFIS co-ordinator Jesus San Miguel said.

“We expect worse to come — we aren't even halfway into the fire season.”

Close to 40,000 hectares of forest in France have been lost to fire so far this year, already more than the 30,000 burnt in 2021.

About 190,000 hectares in Spain have gone up in smoke this year, compared with 85,000 last year.

And with higher temperatures brought by global warming, places less accustomed to wildfires have also been affected this year, notably Britain.

A little more than 20,000 hectares have been burnt in 2022 so far, compared with only 6,000 in all of 2021.

Updated: July 21, 2022, 7:54 PM