Drivers and implications of the extreme 2022 wildfire season in Southwest Europe


Wildfire is a common phenomenon in Mediterranean countries but the 2022 fire season has been extreme in southwest Europe (Portugal, Spain and France). Here we provide a preliminary but comprehensive analysis of 2022’s wildfire season in southwest Europe. Burned area has exceeded the 2001–2021 median by a factor of 52 in some regions and large wildfires (>500 ha) started to occur in June–July, earlier than the traditional fire season. These anomalies were associated with record-breaking values of fuel dryness, atmospheric water demand and pyrometeorological conditions. Live fuel moisture content was below the historical minima for almost 50 % of the season in some regions. A few large wildfires were responsible for 82 % of the burned area and, in turn, 47 % of the area burned occurred in protected areas. Shrublands, transitional woodlands and conifer forests (but not eucalypt plantations) were the land cover types most affected by extreme fires. As climate change intensifies, we can expect such fire seasons to become the new normal in large parts of the continent, potentially leading to major negative impacts on rural economies. These results highlight the need for landscape level fuel management also in protected areas, to avoid fire-induced biodiversity losses and landscape scale degradation. Our results have important policy implications and indicate that fire prevention should be explicitly addressed within continental forest legislation and strategies.

Science of The Total Environment