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2022 International Wildfires

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Fueled by drought and extreme heat, wildfires have been burning in several countries in Europe and the Mediterranean throughout the summer, beginning in June.

The continued heat makes fighting the fires extremely challenging. Although the locations are constantly changing, the overall needs remain the same.

To date, tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate and at least four people – including two firefighters – have died (two in Spain, one in Portugal and one in Morocco). Hundreds more have died from the extreme heat. At least seven countries’ capitals have reached 40-year highs in temperature already this year.

As of July 29, the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) estimates that within European Union countries, between 1.6 million acres and 2.1 million acres have burned. In the broader area that EFFIS covers, it estimates between 3.1 million acres and 4.1 million burned acres.

Wildfires are a complex phenomenon that involves the interconnection of climate, weather, land use and urban sprawl as well as concerns of racism, equity and inclusion. The fires that happen around the world now are unlike the fires of 1992, 1972 or 1952. Fires are burning faster and hotter than ever before, and complex socio-economic factors are resulting in more people being affected by smoke, debris flows and other wildfire effects. It is becoming more common for areas to suffer a subsequent catastrophic wildfire before recovering from an earlier wildfire.

Editor’s Note: The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) maintains a profile on North American Wildfires, which includes the U.S., Canada and Mexico. This disaster profile will cover all major wildfire areas outside of that region.

Some countries/regions use the term “forest fire,” which we will adopt where appropriate but “wildfire” is an umbrella term that includes wildland fires burning in any type of vegetation, including forests.

(Photo: Wildfire burning in southwest France on July 19, 2022. Credit: Gironde via Twitter)

According to the EFFIS, its 43 member countries (which also include some in the Middle East and Northern Africa) saw an average of more than 1 million acres (424,000 hectares) burned every year between 2010 and 2019. Far more concerning is that countries, where wildfires have been historically low, are seeing significant increases in both fire numbers and burned area. In 2020 (the latest year for which data is available), countries such as Croatia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Turkey all saw fires consume more than double the average area.

There have been four times as many fires this year compared to usual. In a recent tweet, Copernicus (the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme) said, “The total number of fires🔥in the #EU as of 23 July and since the beginning of the year stood at 1,926 (vs. an average of ~520 for the 2006-2021 reference period).”

Source: The Guardian

One exacerbating factor in the growth of wildfires is an increasing wildland-urban interface or human development near wild lands. The expanding interface not only makes human-caused wildfires more likely, but it also has the potential to make fires both more damaging and deadly. In Europe, July and August are common times for people to visit the seaside or other tourist areas. Many of these fires have occurred in tourist locations.

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Croatia

At least 30 houses were destroyed along Croatia’s Adriatic coast as three wildfires burned just under 10,000 acres in the third week of July. The fires were extinguished on July 18.

According to EFFIS, over 77,000 acres had burned as of Aug. 11, 2022. This is more than double the yearly average.

France

More than 39,000 people had to be evacuated because of wildfires in France, but all have been allowed to return home as of July 27. At least 51,000 acres of land were destroyed in Gironde, a popular tourist destination, and 70 square miles overall. Five campgrounds were destroyed in the small town of La Teste-de-Buch. No civilians were injured but 27 injuries were reported among the 4,200 firefighters responding from Gironde, across France and Switzerland. Only five homes were destroyed despite the fire threatening 13,000 homes at the height of the blaze.

August has brought no relief to firefighters in the Gironde region, as a new massive wildfire that started on Aug. 9 is raging approximately 20 miles south of the regional capital, Bordeaux. More than 1,000 firefighters are battling a fire they are calling “an ogre” and that has already burned close to 17,300 acres (7,000 hectares) in only three days as of Aug. 11. The fire is located in the Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park west of the town of Hostens and is threatening or has already impacted more than a dozen communities in the area.

According to EFFIS, over 142,500 acres have burned as of Aug. 11, 2022. This is more than four and a half times the yearly average.

Greece

A fire on the tourist Isle of Lesbos began on July 23 burning fields, pine forest and shrubland. The fire front spread across 2.5 miles and at least 7,200 acres have been destroyed.

Another fire is burning in the eastern part of Greece’s Dadia National Park. This park is home to a black vulture colony and is Greece’s biggest Natura 2000 site.

An article in the Greek Reporter on July 20 (before the above two fires started) said, “In the first few months of 2022, thirty forest fires were recorded in the country, a massive increase from the usual four. Those fires burned over 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of land compared to the average 37.5 (around 92 acres).”

Morocco

In July 2022, wildfires caused by heat waves triggered the evacuation of 500 families in Larache and Taza. An additional 1,331 families were evacuated from 20 villages near the port of Tangier and 170 houses were destroyed. Over 3,700 acres of forest were destroyed and one person was killed.

Portugal

The districts of Leiria and Santarém in the Algarve region experienced extensive wildfires in July. A pilot was killed when a fire plane crashed. In July, at least 74,000 acres were destroyed because of wildfires. At least 135 people were injured and over 800 people evacuated to date.

More than 168,000 acres have burned this year as of Aug. 11, compared to the yearly total average of 239,000 acres.

Spain

Dozens of wildfires burned across Spain in July. In one of the most dramatic scenes emerging from the fires, a train from Madrid to Ferrol stopped for a few minutes because of fire on the tracks around Zamora-Sanabria on Monday, July 18. Two people have died in Zamora’s fire – a firefighter and a 69-year-old farmer.

Spain’s prime minister blames climate change, even as police arrested one man for starting three of the fires. Pedro Sánchez said, “Climate change kills: it kills people, as we’ve seen; it also kills our ecosystem, our biodiversity, and it also destroys the things we as a society hold dear – our houses, our businesses, our livestock.”

Land Life, a Netherlands-based company preparing the soil for tree planting, accepted responsibility for a fire damaging 34,600 acres of land in Ateca in the north-eastern region of Aragón. The fire was caused by a spark from heavy equipment.

Spain’s 600,000 acres burned as of Aug. 11 are more than three times its annual average.

United Kingdom

Dozens of small wildfires and grass fires have broken out across the United Kingdom since April, with the majority occurring in July due to the extreme heat.

As of July 25, nearly 50,000 acres had burned, the second-largest amount after 2018 when 71,000 acres were destroyed. According to the National Fire Chiefs Council, “this year alone England and Wales have had 442 wildfires – which compares with 247 last year.”

On July 19, the fire service in London reported its busiest day since World War II.

Carbon emissions

Wildfires are both an effect, and a cause, of global climate change. As the average temperature increases, wildfires are increasing in both frequency and intensity, but they are also contributing to climate change themselves. The EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) estimated that global wildfires in 2021 generated 148% more carbon emissions than all of the fossil fuel emissions in 2020.

Single-home house fires

In addition to numerous wildfires, the extreme heat has triggered many single-home house fires.

For example, in England, the London Fire Brigade spokesperson said, “This has been an unprecedented day in the history of the London Fire Brigade where we’ve been subjected to extremes of heat and temperature that have caused a number of weather-related incidents.”

As with all disasters and large-scale emergencies, it is most effective to make cash donations to support groups already engaged and coordinating on the ground at the disaster site. They can often take that monetary donation and double or triple its value through their local partnerships. Additionally, this allows on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.

Do not donate hard goods such as clothing, food and water, medications, or other items unless there is a specific request from an organization already working in the area.

Short-term needs

Immediate needs include shelter, food, evacuation support, family reconnection, health care and case management.

Long-term needs

Long-term support needs will include rehousing, income recovery, agricultural needs and additional preparedness support to vulnerable populations. Due to the continuing threat of fire, mental health support and counseling services will be a significant need. Award loans and grants for rebuilding damaged homes and businesses.

Drought mitigation efforts

Drought mitigation efforts may focus on sustainable agriculture, water conservation or even land use.

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, an emerging area for research is land-use patterns that “maintain the integrity of watersheds and that have a smaller paved footprint,” which can help build resilience to drought. 

Public awareness

Invest in public awareness, educational campaigns and information dissemination on fire prevention and promising wildfire and drought mitigation practices. Simple efforts such as clearing flammable materials from 100 feet around the house may help prevent property damage. Fires can also be started by misuse of equipment, such as grills, that can be averted with proper knowledge. 

Business recovery

Assist businesses in developing business continuity and disaster recovery plans to reduce economic impact. These plans should include contingencies for displaced workers, back up of data and alternate facilities for continuing operations in the event of property damage. 

Volunteer firefighters

Consider the needs of volunteer fire departments. As volunteers, they often lack the structural support of larger departments, and their resources may have been depleted during the wildfire. 

Prevention

As the number of wildfires increase, it is important to focus on prevention activities.

A recent report from the World Wildlife Fund “found Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and France were spending as much as 80% of available funds on suppression and just 20% on prevention.”

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has a Global Recovery Fund that provides an opportunity for donors to meet the ongoing and ever-expanding challenges presented by global crises. Donate to help direct recovery dollars to the fires in different parts of the world.

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Philanthropic contributions

If you would like to make a donation to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, please contact development.

(Photo: Firefighters battling ongoing forest fires in Landiras and Teste-de-Buch in Gironde, France. Credit: Préfète de Nouvelle-Aquitaine et Gironde via Twitter)

Recovery updates

If you are a responding NGO or a donor, please send updates on how you are working in this crisis to tanya.gulliver-garcia@disasterphilanthropy.org.

We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Donor recommendations

If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to help in this crisis, please email regine.webster@disasterphilanthropy.org.

More ways to help

CDP has also created a list of suggestions for foundations to consider related to disaster giving. These include:

  • Take the long view: Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that it will take some time for the full range of needs to emerge. Be patient in planning for disaster funding. Recovery will take a long time and funding will be needed throughout.
  • Recognize there are places private philanthropy can help that government agencies might not: Private funders have opportunities to develop innovative solutions to respond to and help prevent or mitigate future disasters that the government cannot execute.
  • All funders are disaster philanthropists: Even if your organization does not work in a particular geographic area or fund immediate relief efforts, you can look for ways to tie disaster funding into your existing mission. If you focus on education, health, children or vulnerable populations, disasters present prime opportunities for funding.
  • Ask the experts: If you are considering supporting an organization that is positioned to work in an affected area, do some research. CDP and InterAction can provide resources and guidance about organizations working in affected communities. There are a few local India-based community foundations that can provide insights into nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are best suited to respond in a particular community.

Resources

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Drought

Drought

Drought is often defined as an unusual period of drier than normal weather that leads to a water shortage. Drought causes more deaths and displaces more people than any other disaster.

Wildfires

Wildfires

Weather can significantly affect the frequency and severity of wildfires. Prolonged drought can extend prime wildfire season, making blazes more likely. Additionally, high temperatures and low humidity can quickly dry out vegetation which then becomes potential fuel.