Summer is known as the active fire season in many parts of Mediterranean Europe. Recent severity of forest fires in Greece has shown that the situation can change in a few days from a mild fire season to being quite devastating for the most vulnerable countries.
On 25th August, 2011 the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) was contacted by the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) of the European Commission regarding the identified extreme forest fire danger conditions in Greece and the Balkan area to help in the provision of European assistance to the affected countries. As a result of European solidarity, Greece has received help from Spain and France in the form of 4 Canadair CL-415 fire fighting aircrafts, while a CL-415 was sent from Italy to help Albania.
The image provides an overview of fires mapped by EFFIS from 20-26th August in South-eastern Europe
During the spring of 2011, unusually hot and dry weather over temperate Europe induced remarkable fire activity in this region, significantly affecting countries like Belgium, Ireland and United Kingdom, which are normally safely excluded from the main forest fire arena.
On other hand, the Mediterranean countries, normally far more affected by forest fires, were relatively cool and wet in the first part of the summer, but, this situation changed in August. Driven by very high to extreme fire weather conditions, fire activity increased significantly in the last days of August in South-eastern regions of Europe, affecting mostly Greece and the Balkan area (Albania).
The area of Alexandroupolis in Greece was the most affected. The total burned area mapped with the MODIS satellite measurements on the afternoon of 26th August was 3203 ha, of which 79% was in mixed conifer-broadleaved forests. In addition, most of the burned area is in a Natura-2000 site.
25th August (afternoon), 2011 26th August (morning), 2011 26th August (afternoon), 2011
Evolution of the burnt areas detected by means of the MODIS satellite: 2116 ha in the afternoon of August 25th, 2379 ha in the morning and 3203 ha in the afternoon of August 26th
Historically, Southern Member States - Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece, have been known for increased fire danger in warm and dry summers. For example, 2010 was generally a relatively mild year for forest fires in Europe, except for Portugal which was affected by remarkable fire activity especially in the first half of August. The total burnt area in Europe (274 000 ha) was considerably lower than the long term average of around 500 000 ha. However, about 50% of the burnt land was concentrated in Portugal, where the meteorological fire danger conditions assessed by the EFFIS in the first half of August 2010 were amongst the worst for that country for the past decade.
Burnt area (red); Number of fires (blue) and average fire size (yellow) in the five Southern EU Member States (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece) for the past 31 years
Over the years, EFFIS has become a focal point for information on forest fires in Europe; it delivers data and information to support forest fire prevention, preparedness and firefighting activities on a daily basis since 2000. The latest annual fire report “Forest Fires in Europe 2010” is already the 11th report in the series. Competent national authorities of EU Member States and of European neighbour countries work together with the European Commission services on a purely voluntary basis to sustain the EFFIS system.
The 2010 report also includes a contribution from Russia for the first time. In European Russia, the 2010 fire season was the worst on record. A severe drought combined with record-high temperatures and strong winds led to a large number of fires that burned simultaneously, producing large smoke clouds with a strong impact on the city of Moscow and nearby urban areas.
In 2010, EFFIS continued to include Northern African countries in the mapping of burnt areas and the assessment of fire danger forecasts. This is intended as a first step towards the enlargement of EFFIS to non-European countries of the Mediterranean basin in the context of the collaboration between the EC and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).