The number of wildfires recorded so far in 2022 is already three times higher than average, with the country registering at least one fire every two days according to Coldiretti, Italy’s national confederation of farmers.
The exceptionally high temperatures of the past few months combined with the ongoing lack of rainfall – down by nearly 50 percent on this time last year – have dried out swathes of land up and down the country, increasing the frequency and often the severity of wildfires.
“Italy is ablaze, with over 9,000 hectares [of land] having gone up in smoke in the last six months”, said Coldiretti, adding that the heatwave is “laying siege” to major cities including Bologna, Rome, Florence and Naples.
Last year, around 150,000 hectares of land up and down the peninsula were destroyed by wildfires and 659 firestorms were recorded. But the latest round of data collected by EFFIS (the European Forest Fire Information System) suggest that 2022 is going to be a much worse year.
In the last weekend alone, an entire pine forest in Minervino Murge (60 kilometres north of Bari) was completely destroyed after a wildfire broke out, while several small wildfires were registered in the provinces of Palermo (Sicily) and Ravenna (Emilia-Romagna) from Saturday.
On Sunday, a fire also broke out in a thicket in Rome’s Ponte di Nona area, though the prompt intervention of the local fire brigade prevented the flames from spreading to the surrounding constructions, preventing more serious damage.
As the current heatwave shows no sign of relenting and rain is not expected for at least another week, events of this kind are only likely to keep occurring and farmers across the country, many of whom have already been hit hard by the drought, are yet again expected to take the brunt.
Coldiretti warned that Italy must prepare for “a real national emergency” with the agriculture sector crisis set to relive the woes of 2003, when the country registered the hottest summer in 40 years and as many as 9,697 wildfires were recorded throughout the year.
“Every fire costs Italians over 10,000 euros per hectare, including both the immediate cost of putting out the fire and recovering the land and long-term expenses for the reconstruction of environmental and financial systems,” said Coldiretti.
While the current drought and ensuing fires are sure to hit the country’s economy hard, things are predicted to worsen in the coming decades.
Climate change is expected to mean the number of extreme wildfires recorded worldwide will increase by 14 percent by 2030 and by 50 percent by the end of the century, according to UN estimates.
If you see a wildfire in Italy, follow our guidance on what to do and what to avoid.