Europe’s nature under threat after a 2019 with highest forest fire record

Despite the increase of large forest fires in 2019, the EU's Annual Report on Forest Fires highlights a more effective response that has prevented accidents and loss of life compared to previous years.

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Photo: Brais Seara / AdobeStock

The European Commission has recently published the 20th edition of its Annual Report on Forest Fires in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, covering the year 2019. The document highlights how the past year has been the worst in recent history for fires worldwide, with more than 400,000 hectares of natural land in Europe burned and a record number of nature protection areas affected by forest fires.

According to the report’s findings, climate change continued to affect the duration and intensity of fire danger in Europe. In March, before the ‘fire season’ in most countries, the total burnt area in the EU was already above the annual average of the last 12 years. However, the report notes the progress made in preventing, preparing for and responding to these events in 2019, making last year one of the best in history in terms of preventing accidents and fatalities caused by fires.

Key findings of the report

  • National reporting from countries showed that Spain, Portugal and Poland recorded the highest number of fires in EU countries in 2019.
  • Wildfires heavily affected Europe’s Natura 2000 protected areas: With 159,585 ha burnt in 2019, nearly half of the total burnt area in the EU occurred within these key biodiversity zones.
  • The 2019 season was, however, one of the best in terms of preventing accidents and loss of life: Only three casualties occurred due to wildfires in the countries included in the 2019 report.

In the area of fire monitoring and response, the report points out that the Copernicus Rapid Mapping Emergency Management Service was activated 35 times to help fight forest fires in 2019, the highest number of activations of any year so far. Along the same lines of prompt intervention, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was activated five times for forest fires and updated with RescueEU in 2019, establishing a new European reserve including fire-fighting planes and helicopters.

Background

The Forest Fires in Europe, Middle East and North Africa reports are a unique source of information for fire managers and policymakers in European and neighbouring countries. They provide official statistics of wildfire impacts, reported annually by the fire administrations in these countries. This is the 20th report of the series, coordinated by the European Comission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) with the support of other Commission services.

More information

Download full report (PDF)