bneGREEN: Europe suffers second-worst year for wildfires since records began

bneGREEN: Europe suffers second-worst year for wildfires since records began
Map showing intensity (in red) of wildfires. / EFFIS
By bne IntelliNews May 4, 2023

2022 was the second-worst year for wildfires in Europe in terms of the number of fires and the burnt area since records began in 2000. 

Across Europe, fires in 45 countries burnt a total of 1,624,381 hectares, about the size of Montenegro, in 2022, according to data from the Copernicus’ European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS). 

Only 2006 was worse for Europe as a whole, while for the EU countries the season was the worst since 2017. 

The worst-affected country was Ukraine, with a total mapped burnt area significantly higher than in any other country covered by EFFIS. 6,309 fires were mapped, resulting in a total burnt area of 498,711 ha, three-quarters of which was agricultural land. 

The report did not specify how many of the fires were related to the war that broke out with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The data for Ukraine also includes urban fires, so it is not directly comparable to other countries. 

Aside from Ukraine, Spain was the most affected by wildfires with a total of 315,705 ha burnt, which was 3.5 times more than in 2021. 

“Romania (162,518 ha), Portugal (112, 063 ha), Bosnia & Herzegovina (76,473 ha) and France (74,654 ha) were also among the five countries that were most affected,” the report said. 

Protected Natura 2000 protected sites, home to endangered plant and animal species, were among the areas ravaged by wildfires. The total burnt surface in these protected areas in 2022 reached 365,308 ha, the highest amount mapped in the last ten years.

In the EU alone, fires burnt a total of 837,212 ha in 26 of the EU27 countries (excluding Luxembourg). The largest share of the damage was in July, particularly in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Greece. 

Looking ahead to 2023, Spain and Portugal have the largest burnt area so far. Just four months into the year, France has already surpassing its annual average, with 21,331 hectares burnt this year compared to the average 13,153 ha.

Several countries in Southeast and Central Europe experienced a significant worsening of wildfire damage compared to 2021. 

This was the worst fire season ever in Hungary, with 7,960 ha of land burnt, which was more than ten times the average of the last decade. 

For Romania, the fire season was the worst in more than 10 years. The total mapped burnt area was 162,518 ha, concentrated in the Tulcea region. Over two-thirds of the damage occurred in March.

The 2022 fire season in Bulgaria was among the worst of recent years, while in Serbia it was the second-worst to date. 

The total burnt area in Croatia soared by three times compared to the previous year, and the number of fires mapped was the highest in the last decade. 

It was also the worst wildfire season in Czechia for at least a decade, mainly because of one huge fire in Hřensko Province in July. Similarly, a single very large fire burnt around 4,000 ha in Slovenia’s Obalno-kraška province. 

On the other hand, the wildfire seasons were relatively mild in Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Turkey.