How climate change drives heatwaves and wildfires in Europe

Hot weather helps fire spread by absorbing moisture from vegetation and turning it into dry fuel.

“Currently, it is warmer and drier [fires] More dangerous,” said Copernicus Senior Scientist Mark Parrington.

Countries such as Portugal and Greece experience wildfires most of the summer, and have the infrastructure to try to manage them – although both received emergency EU aid this summer. But warmer temperatures are pushing wildfires into regions they’re not used to, so they’re less prepared to deal with them.

Climate change is not the only factor in fires

Forest management and ignition sources are also important factors. More than nine out of 10 fires in Europe are started by human activities such as incinerators, disposable barbecues, power lines or waste glass, according to EU data.

Countries, including Spain, face the challenge of depopulation in rural areas as people move to cities, clearing vegetation and creating “fuel” for forest fires.

Certain actions can help limit serious fires, such as burning controlled fires that mimic low-intensity fires in natural ecosystem cycles, or introducing gaps in forests to stop large-scale fires.

But scientists agree that heat waves, wildfires, floods and droughts will worsen unless the greenhouse gases that cause climate change are reduced.

“When we look back at the fire in a decade or two, it probably looks relatively simple,” said Victor Resco de Dios, professor of forest engineering at the University of Lleida in Spain.

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