Due to severe heat waves affecting the region, wildfires spread through Greece, Latvia, and Sweden in July 2018. In Greece alone, forest fires in the Attica area killed at least 92 people with 25 missing and injured almost 200 more as of July 31, 2018, making it the worst natural disaster in over a decade. Wildfires are frequent in Europe, and some nations like Portugal and Russia record over 10,000 wildfires in a year. Often, these fires attack areas with combustible vegetation in rural or countryside areas.
Top Three European Countries with the Most Forest Fires
Portugal has recorded one of the highest numbers of wildfires in Europe since 1993. These fires destroyed more than 10% of the country's forests and caused 18 deaths in 2003. Portugal had the highest number of forest fires in Europe in 2016, with a total of 13,261 fires. This figure actually represents a 31% decrease compared to the average number of wildfires in the last decade (18,923), and a 15% decrease compared to 2015. The total area burned in 2016 was 399,131 acres. More than 10,026 fires occurred during the summer period. In particular, August was the worst month, with over 4,642 fires, which is 35% of the total wildfires in 2016 and destroyed 286,120 acres of land.
Despite not having the highest number of wildfires in Europe, Russia lost more than 5,978,107 acres of protected territory in 2016, which included about 4,798337 acres of forested land in 2016. The first fire of 2016 started on January 3, 2016, in Irkutskaya Oblast and by the end of the year, the country had experienced about 10,089 wildfires. Approximately 86% of the burned area was located in six areas of Siberia and the Far East. Irkutskaya Oblast had 1,173 fires, while Amurskaya Oblast had 258 wildfires. The Russian Federation experienced an annual average of 18,623 fires from 2006 to 2015, with an average of 5,710,791 acres burned each year during this period. The country's worst fire occurred in 1935 and affected over 1,200 individuals in the Kursha-2 industrial community.
Spain had more than 400,000 wildfires in the last three decades. The country experienced 8,817 fires in 2016, which was a 32% decrease compared to the annual average over the previous ten years. The number of minor fires that affected small areas (less than 2.5 acres) decreased by 25% to 6,470 while fires affecting larger regions (more than 2.5 acres) decreased by 47% to 2,338 fires. The entire burned area in 2016 decreased by 37% compared to the annual average over the last decade, which was 79,326 acres. The total scorched area decreased by 34% to 162,635 acres in 2016. Spain had 22 big forest fires in 2016, which represents about 49% of the entire area burned (162,637 acres).
Causes of Wildfires
Humans are the primary cause of wildfires, responsible for more than 90% of forest fires around the world. Some of the careless human activities that cause wildfires include unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes, and arson. Natural disasters cause roughly 10% of the world's forest fires. The two primary natural causes of fires are volcanic eruptions and lighting, but the extent of the wildfire will depend on topography, vegetation type, and weather.