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WILDFIRES

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Firefighters douse smouldering rubbles in a burnt house in spain
Firefighters douse smouldering rubbles in a burnt house after a wildfire in the Valle del Arlanza, near Burgos in Spain on July 25, 2022. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Climate crisis: Italy records ‘five times’ more extreme weather events in ten years

The wave of severe storms currently hitting Italy has taken the number of extreme weather events this summer up to 1,642 - five times the number recorded a decade ago, records show.

Climate crisis: Italy records 'five times' more extreme weather events in ten years

The figures were released by Italy’s farmers’ association Coldiretti on Thursday, based on data from the European Severe Weather Database (ESWD) recording events including tornadoes, flash floods, sudden rainstorms (known as bombe d’acqua), giant hail and damaging lightning strikes.

“The long hot summer, characterized by drought, was interrupted several times by violent rainfall,” Coldiretti pointed out.

READ ALSO: ‘A code red’: Will Europeans change their habits after climate crisis ‘reality check’?

“This multiplication of extreme events has caused over six billion euros’ worth of damage to agriculture in 2022, 10 percent of the (value of) national production,” the farming association said.

“We are seeing the clear consequences of climate change, as exceptional weather events are now the norm in Italy too, with a tendency towards tropicalization manifesting as more frequent violent events, seasonal shifts, short, intense bouts of precipitation, the quick change from sunshine to bad weather, with significant changes in temperature that compromises crops.”

At least seven people were reported dead on Friday morning following flash floods in the central Marche region as the latest wave of bad weather swept the country.

Severe storms hit many central and northern regions on Friday morning, including Umbria, Abruzzo, Tuscany, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardy, and Molise, with bad weather spreading south.

File photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Italy, along with much of the rest of mainland Europe, has suffered a series of heatwaves this summer that have fuelled forest fires and drained rivers.

The extreme conditions this summer caused a spike in heat-related deaths in Italy, and worsened the most severe drought the country had experienced in 70 years.

Average temperatures of between two and three degrees above the seasonal average were consistently recorded across the country between May and June, with spikes of up to 10 degrees in some areas.

The collapse of Italy’s country’s largest Alpine glacier in July also triggered an avalanche that killed 11 people.

“The year 2022 in terms of extreme climate events is code red,” said the head of Italian environmental group Legambiente, Stefano Ciafani, in an August report.

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