Wildfires in Europe


    In Context

    • Recently, European countries like France, Greece, Portugal and Spain have been battling intense wildfires.

    More about the news

    • Europe is battling intense wildfires with thousands of hectares of forest land burned to the ground amid a searing heatwave.
    • The blaze forced thousands from their homes and killed several emergency personnel.
    • It is the second heatwave engulfing parts of southwest Europe in weeks.

    Reasons behind these wildfires

    • Wildfires require 
      • Right climatic conditions, 
      • Burnable fuel and 
      • A spark.
    • Climatic Conditions in Europe:
      • As for Europe, the region has been hit by an early fire season due to an unusually dry, hot spring that left the soil parched. 
      • Authorities attribute this to climate change
        • They add that the fires are being fanned by earlier-than-usual extreme temperatures and drought conditions in some parts.
    • Burnable fuel:
      • Rising temperatures suck moisture out of plants, creating an abundance of dry fuel. 
      • Drought and high heat can kill plants and dry out dead grass, and other material on the forest floor that fuels the fire once it starts sweeping through a patch. 
    • The spark:
      • Spark is sometimes caused by lightning, at other times by accident or recklessness of the local population.
      • A 2018 fire in California in the US, for instance, was started when a truck blew out its tire and its rim scraped the pavement, sending out sparks.

    Impacts of wildfire

    • Pollution:
      • Air pollution caused by wildfires is more intense than other forms of air pollution, although it tends to occur over a shorter period of time.
      • Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of fine and coarse particulate matter and gases, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and air toxics.
    • Health hazards:
      • While fire poses a direct risk to people’s life and property, wildfire smoke, and particularly the concentration of PM 2.5, or particles smaller than 2.5 microns, can also affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. 
      • For those already suffering from cardiovascular or respiratory illnesses, there is a risk of flare-ups.
    • Wildlife:
      • Wildfires destroy not only flora (tree, herbs, grassland, forbs, etc.) and their diversity but also have considerable long-term negative impact on fauna including wild endangered species.
      • They impact the wildlife by burning eggs, killing young animals and driving the adult animals away from their habitat.
    • Forests & Soil:
      • Wildfires destroy the organic matter in the soil and expose the top layer to erosion.
        • This also leads to the loss of crops.
      • They damage the regeneration in the forests and their productivity.
    • Economic:
      • Wildfires can disrupt transportation, communications, power and gas services, and water supply. 

    Prevention & Mitigation of wildfires

    • Prevention:
      • Forecasting fire-prone days using meteorological data.
      • Clearing camping sites of dried biomass.
      • Early burning of dry litter on the forest floor.
      • Growing strips of fire-hardy plant species within the forest.
      • Creating fire lines (strips in the forest kept clear of vegetation to prevent the fire from spreading) in the forests.
      • Controlled burns are also used to prevent forest fires.
        • A controlled burn is a wildfire that people set intentionally for a specific purpose. 
        • Well-thought-out and well-managed controlled burns can be incredibly beneficial for forest management because they can help stop an out-of-control wildfire.
    • Mitigation:
      • Early detection and quick action by fire-fighting squads are crucial.
      • For such activities, the forest departments have a fire protection and fire control unit.
      • The best way to control a forest fire is, therefore, to prevent it from spreading, which can be done by creating firebreaks in the shape of small clearings of ditches in the forests.

    International Efforts

    • The report, “Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires”, prepared by the United Nations Environmental Programme, has sounded the alarm on wildfires.
    • The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – “Fire Ready Formula”
      • UNEP recently called on global governments to adopt a new ‘Fire Ready Formula,’ as it warned that incidences of wildfires would rise in the future.
        • The UNEP has called for strengthening international and regional cooperation on wildfires.
        • Development of an international standard for wildfire management has also been recommended.


    Forest fires in India

    • There were around 340 incidences of fires with 1,141 large forest fires (LFF) continuing for the last seven-eight days according to the Forest Survey of India (FSI). 
    • Approximately 22 percent area of forest cover in India falls under the highly and extremely fire-prone category.
    • Recently there have been fires in Rajasthan’s Sariska Tiger Reserve, Odisha’s Similipal Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh’s Ladkui jungles and the forest areas of the Majhgawan region and the Perimalmalai Peak near the Kodaikanal hills of Tamil Nadu. 

    Forest Fire Management Initiatives in India:

    • National Action Plan on Forest Fires:
      • It focuses on holistic management of forest fire scenarios in the country including fire prevention, fire control, post-fire activities, community mobilization etc.
      • The framework for the preparation of the State Crisis Management Plan and funding provisions from Central schemes, coordination of various agencies are also a part of the Plan.
    • Large Forest Fires Monitoring Programme:
      • This programme is a part of the FAST 3.0.
        • FAST – Near Real-Time Forest Fire Alerts
      • Herein, FSI tracks large fire events across the country and disseminates specific Large Fire alerts to identify, track and report serious forest fire incidents so as to help monitor them and also seek timely additional assistance.
    • Forest Fire Pre Warning Alerts:
      • Developed by FSI in 2016.
      • The alerts are based on parameters like Forest Cover, Forest Type, Climatic Variables (Temperature and Rainfall) and recent fire incidents over the area.
      • These alerts which are generated based on short term weather variables, are valid for the ensuing week.

    Source: DTE