An international research team led by the University of Leicester have mapped the risks from wildfires close to cities across Europe, highlighting the countries most at risk of catastrophic fire damage.
For the first time, the researchers set out to map the extent of wildland areas around cities all over Europe to find out where they create a ‘wildland-urban interface’ risk for large wildfires threatening businesses and communities.
Using satellite maps of land cover and of the extent of large fires, they used statistics to find areas where large fires have happened more frequently and where wildland areas are close enough to cities to make them vulnerable. Various cities in Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Italy and Spain were identified as at greatest risk.
The overall study area covered the entire European Union, including the non-member states of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina Kosovo.
Wildland-urban interface mapping and the cross-national scale statistical analysis between wildland-urban interface distance and large forest fires were performed for the whole study area.
In many regions of Europe the rapid changes in the global economy have led to dramatic changes in land use. Many farmers have given up production and shrubs encroach on abandoned land and these changes have altered the landscapes around many large cities, particularly in the Mediterranean. Where such wildland areas meet the city boundaries, wildfires are a serious risk. This is especially the case in Southern Europe where summers are hot and dry. Such conditions lead to sometimes catastrophic wildfires resulting in the loss of human lives and damage to property.
The study, which is supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), was carried out by the University of Leicester’s Centre for Landscape and Climate Research and National Centre for Earth Observation, the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, both in Italy.
The study ‘Mapping regional patterns of large forest fires in Wildland Urban Interface areas in Europe’ published in the Journal of Environmental Management can be accessed at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301479716300548