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Europe's forest fire future

An EU group studied the changing incidence of forest fires at European city boundaries. Predicting the future risks is complex, with some areas likely to be more affected and others less; climate and socioeconomics constitute important factors.

Climate Change and Environment

The prevalence of forest fires, especially at urban fringes, has increased in recent decades because of combined changing factors, including land use and climate. With drier conditions expected, the European fire risk should generally increase; but making specific local predictions will require considerable research. Such were the goals of the FUME project, which the EU funded for three years starting in early 2010. The 32-member consortium included 7 partners from fire-prone non-European countries. The goal was to understand how climatic, biotic and societal factors interact to affect forest fires, and to assess how human changes alter the risks. The project did so via a three-fold agenda: documenting recent fire activity, modelling impacts on land use and land cover (LULC), and evaluating adaptation to new conditions. The group determined that fire activity has been changing in Mediterranean countries as landscapes also changed. Fires burned where hazardous conditions prevailed, but unevenly, and recently burned sites were the most fire prone. Of greatest risk is the rural–urban interface, and the project developed methods for modelling that risk. Socioeconomic factors and climate (especially anomalous dry spells) were important predicting factors. Climate generally reduced fire danger in southern Europe. FUME modelled future LULC in those regions, showing that fire danger will depend on planning decisions. Certain climate scenarios should see a significant increase of fire danger, though in other cases the danger may reduce. Eastern Europe may become a new high-risk area. Climate change will probably impact regenerative germination of Mediterranean plant species, but making generalisations is difficult. Lastly, the group found that Mediterranean pine forests will require active management to increase resilience. The team recommended various options. The project particularly called for an integration of research, policy and management to decrease fire risk. The FUME project achieved its goals concerning study of likely future fire-risk scenarios affecting Europe. The group also suggested options for mitigation.

Keywords

Forest fire, climate, socioeconomics, urban fringes, land use, land cover

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