July 4, 2019 / 4:58 PM / in 4 months

WWF warns of worsening 'superfires' across Europe

FILE PHOTO: Trees burn during a forest fire near Maials, west of Tarragona, Spain, June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) - Global conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned on Thursday of the risks from new faster-spreading “superfires” in the wake of heatwaves and droughts that have been afflicting Europe in what many see as a symptom of climate change. 

Although the Mediterranean is the area most affected by wildfires, traditionally wetter northern European countries have recently also struggled with huge forest blazes. 

An average of 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres) of forest burn every year in Europe, European data show.

The report, released by WWF Spain, said the fires cost the continent an estimated 3 billion euros ($3.38 billion) annually.

Between 2017 and 2018, hard-to-extinguish superfires that were fanned by strong winds and phenomena such as updraft killed 225 people in Portugal, Greece and Spain, and are expected to worsen due to an inadequate allocation of resources and rising global temperatures. 

“The current policy regarding fighting wildfires, which is based exclusively on a system of extinguishment, is obsolete and inefficient in fighting a new kind of ‘superfires’,” said the report. It called for more prevention measures, including better forestry management.

Apart from rising global temperatures, the report cited rural depopulation and chaotic urbanisation as being responsible for the worsening of wildfires. 

At least 13 people have died in Europe’s most recent heat wave, with many countries such as France surpassing their highest ever recorded temperatures. Over 1,400 European wildfires have already been reported in 2019.

($1 = 0.8867 euros)

Reporting by Sarah Dagher; Editing by Andrei Khalip

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