In 2023, more wildfires than average

The EFFIS/Copernicus report looks at forest fires in Europe over the whole of 2023, with a particular focus on southern Europe and the Mediterranean region.

Europe experienced above-average forest fire activity in 2023, with a peak during the summer months. This led to an increase in the area burnt and in carbon emissions.

According to the report, weather conditions have contributed significantly to wildfires. It explains how an index called the Fire Weather Index (FWI) is used to measure fire risk. The year 2023 saw high levels of FWI in many regions, particularly in southern Europe. This was due to persistent dry and hot weather conditions.

Anomalies in weekly-averaged Fire Weather Index (FWI) for South-East Europe in 2023

Figure 1b. Anomalies in weekly-averaged Fire Weather Index (FWI) for European regions in 2023. Showing positive red) and negative (orange) values relative to the average for the 1991–2020 reference period (dotted white line), minimum and maximum FWI (light grey shading) and 10th to 90th percentile (dark grey shading). Note the different vertical scale for northern and southern European regions. Data source: FWI based on ERA5. Credit: Copernicus EMS/ECMWF.

A record year for burnt areas

The EFFIS/Copernicus report also shows the impact of wildfires, which can be seen in the size and extent of the areas of burnt land visible in satellite images. So-called ‘critical’ forest fires can be difficult to extinguish before they return to lower temperatures.

The year 2023 saw the fourth largest area of burnt land ever recorded in the European Union.

Burnt areas across Europe and the Mediterranean in 2023

Figure 3. Distribution and extent of burnt areas across Europe and the Mediterranean in 2023. Data source: European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS). Credit: EFFIS/CEMS.

AIFM carries out a number of activities to combat forest fires, including:

  • Research and development: AIFM supports research into the causes of forest fires, their behaviour and ways of preventing and fighting them. It also disseminates the results of this research to forest managers and political decision-makers.
  • Capacity building: AIFM organises training courses and workshops to help forest managers develop the skills they need to prevent and combat forest fires. It also provides technical advice to national and local authorities.
  • Awareness-raising: AIFM raises public awareness of the dangers of forest fires and the importance of sustainable forest management. It also runs awareness campaigns to promote responsible behaviour among local populations.
  • International cooperation: AIFM facilitates international cooperation in the fight against forest fires. It brings together forest managers, researchers and political decision-makers from different countries to share best practice and develop common solutions to common problems.

RESTOR’MED FORESTS Lebanon is a recent example of our work to build the capacity of local people in relation to forest fires. Check out the project report video published recently.