This map shows the fire-danger forecast on Aug. 4, with the dark-red areas at "very high" risk. Image via the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).
This summer has been literally blazing in Southern Europe, where forest fires in France, Greece, Italy, and Spain burned down more than 50,000 hectares in just four late-July days. Wildfires have forced thousands to flee their homes, and destroyed dozens of dwellings, in the Canary islands, and killed eight people, including six firefighters, on the Spanish mainland. The top culprit in one of the primary causes of damage to Europe's forests? People. And trees and houses aren't the only things feeling the heat.Fire and Ecosystems
"The economic and environmental damage caused by such fires extends well beyond the affected areas," the European Environment Agency (EEA) reports, noting: "Damage to biodiversity and livelihoods may take decades to reverse." Though naturally occurring forest fires play a role in ecosystem renewal, human activity in the Mediterranean region -- by far the hardest hit-area in Europe, containing 95 percent of the 500,000 hectares stricken with fire on the continent each year -- has made fires far more frequent than normal, leaving not enough time for forests to recover.
Development in the popular tourist region has also broken up forests into ever-smaller and further-separated patches, making it difficult for wildlife to find new habitat when theirs burns down. According to the EEA, "Excessive forest fires also wipe out some of the services and benefits we obtain from forest ecosystems, including wood for buildings, paper and fuel, recreational services, and food products." They also increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, damage the soil, and can aggravate other environmental problems, including erosion and desertification.
Fighting Fire with Fire
So if people are causing the problem -- accidentally or purposely setting more than 90 percent of fires in many parts of the world -- can we also help mitigate it? On a governmental level, the European Union's Fire Paradox project is trying to help "fight fire with fire" by researching and promoting the best tactics such as prescribed burns and suppression fires, while improving and integrating models that show where fire is likely to break out and what its effects will be.
On an individual level, Planet Green has some pretty common-sense tips for preventing wildfires, covering what to do with cigarette butts, how to safely build and douse campfires, and ways to reduce the risk to homes in wooden areas.
New fines for carelessly discarding cigarette butts may help in Turkey, where both Aegean and Mediterranean regions are prone to devastating fires. The Turkish environmental group TEMA is also asking farmers to stop burning the stubble left over after harvesting cereal crops -- a change that would do double-duty for the environment by increasing available foraging ground for birds.
More on forest fires:
Increasing Temps Will Burn Up the Western US - Rocky Mountain Forest Fires Could Nearly Triple by 2050
Hot Topic in Turkey: Forest-Fire Prevention
Giant Robot to Clear Cut Trees, Fight Forest Fires?
Tree-Powered Forest Fire Alert Network Gets Its Power From Bioenergy
U.S. Forest Service Takes Aim at Global Warming
Homes Built on the Fringes of Forests
Restore Fire-Resistant Longleaf Pines, Get Clean Energy
L.A. Demands Fire-Fighting Goats
The Burn Belt: Fire Predictions 'Out West'