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Area burnt by wildfires in Barcelona doubles in a year

Risk of forest blazes is “much higher” due to high temperatures, lack of rain, and heat waves caused by climate change

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08 August 2017 12:45 AM

by

Norma Vidal, Alan Ruiz Terol | Barcelona

Every summer, forests in Catalonia —just like in other Southern European regions— are devastated by wildfires. But Catalan authorities have warned that this year could be even worse. So far, data seems to suggest it will be.

Some 129 forest fires blazed in the Barcelona province during the first half of the summer, burning over 330 hectares, Catalan authorities announced last week. Last year, the number of fires at this point in time was 103, affecting an area half the size.

The wildfire season, though, still has a long way to go: just last weekend, a forest fire burnt over 400 hectares in the countryside village of Artés, north of Barcelona. Some 50 people were evacuated. The fire is now under control, but has not been extinguished yet.

Not only has the number of wildfires increased this year; Catalan authorities warned that the current meteorological conditions —the high temperatures, the lack of rain and the heat wave— also make the risk of fire “much higher”.

As heat waves like the one that affected Southern Europe last week are becoming more frequent, scientists are pointing at climate change as their main cause. According to the World Weather Attribution, an international group of scientists that asses the influence of climate change on extreme-weather events, the excessively-high temperatures that gripped much of Western Europe in June were partly caused by climate change. Heat waves in Southern Europe have become 10 times more frequent, scientists say.

There have been three times as many wildfires this year in European Union countries compared with the 2008-2016 average, according to Euronews.

In Portugal, 64 people died in huge forest fires and more than 200 were injured. Moreover, thousands of people have been forced to evacuate due to forest blazes across Southern Europe.

Cities and tourist areas such as Catalonia, Madrid and Valencia are among the European regions facing a greater risk of catastrophic damage from wildfires, an international team of researchers led by the University of Leicester found.

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  • A firefighter putting out the fire near the Catalan village of Artés

  • A firefighter putting out the fire near the Catalan village of Artés