PloS one

Decreasing Fires in Mediterranean Europe.

PMID 26982584


Forest fires are a serious environmental hazard in southern Europe. Quantitative assessment of recent trends in fire statistics is important for assessing the possible shifts induced by climate and other environmental/socioeconomic changes in this area. Here we analyse recent fire trends in Portugal, Spain, southern France, Italy and Greece, building on a homogenized fire database integrating official fire statistics provided by several national/EU agencies. During the period 1985-2011, the total annual burned area (BA) displayed a general decreasing trend, with the exception of Portugal, where a heterogeneous signal was found. Considering all countries globally, we found that BA decreased by about 3020 km2 over the 27-year-long study period (i.e. about -66% of the mean historical value). These results are consistent with those obtained on longer time scales when data were available, also yielding predominantly negative trends in Spain and France (1974-2011) and a mixed trend in Portugal (1980-2011). Similar overall results were found for the annual number of fires (NF), which globally decreased by about 12600 in the study period (about -59%), except for Spain where, excluding the provinces along the Mediterranean coast, an upward trend was found for the longer period. We argue that the negative trends can be explained, at least in part, by an increased effort in fire management and prevention after the big fires of the 1980's, while positive trends may be related to recent socioeconomic transformations leading to more hazardous landscape configurations, as well as to the observed warming of recent decades. We stress the importance of fire data homogenization prior to analysis, in order to alleviate spurious effects associated with non-stationarities in the data due to temporal variations in fire detection efforts.