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News announcement30 October 2020

Forest fires threaten Europe’s nature as world suffers worst year on record

An unusually high number of Europe’s nature protection areas were affected by wildfires in 2019

Better fire preparedness and more efficient response meant 2019 was one of the best years for preventing accidents and loss of life.
Better fire preparedness and more efficient response meant 2019 was one of the best years for preventing accidents and loss of life.
© Aleksandr Lesik, adobe stock 2020

Today, the European Commission publishes the 20th edition of its Annual Report on Forest Fires in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, covering 2019.

In what was possibly the worst-ever year for forest fires around the world, the report shows that over 400,000 hectares (ha) of Europe’s natural land was burnt and an unusually high number of nature protection areas were affected by wildfires.

Climate change continued to affect the length and intensity of fire danger in Europe. By March, before the official start of the fire season in most countries, the total burnt area in the EU was above the whole year average of the last 12 years.

Key findings

In Europe, 2019 was a year when:

  • Wildfires heavily affected Europe’s network of ‘Natura 2000’ protected areas. With 159,585 ha burnt in 2019, nearly half of the total burnt area in the EU occurred within these key biodiversity zones. While some of these fires occur naturally, the vast majority are caused by humans and endanger these ecosystems;
  • According to the European Forest Fires Information System (EFFIS), Romania (242 fires, 73,444 ha burnt area) was the country with the greatest damage to its protected areas in the Natura 2000 network. This was mostly due to some very large fires in the Danube delta;
  • National reporting from countries showed that Spain, Portugal and Poland recorded 10883, 10832 and 9635 fires in 2019, more than any other EU countries;
  • Due to better preparedness and more efficient response, the 2019 season was one of the best ever in terms of preventing accidents and loss of life. Only three casualties occurred due to wildfires in the countries included in the 2019 report. In terms of burnt area, there were also less devastating fires in Europe than those occurring in 2017 and 2018;
  • The on-demand Rapid Mapping of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service was activated 35 times to help countries respond to wildfires in 2019, the most activations in any single year so far. The service provides on-demand and fast maps to support emergency management activities immediately following fires, floods and other emergencies;
  • The EU Civil Protection Mechanism was activated five times for forest fire emergencies in 2019, in Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Bolivia and Guatemala. The Mechanism was upgraded in March 2019 to establish a new European reserve of capacities (the ‘rescEU reserve’) which includes firefighting planes and helicopters. A very first activation of rescEU took place in August 2019, to fight the forest fires on the Greek island of Evia.

Monitoring and responding to fires

The Copernicus Emergency Management Service, through the European Forest Fires Information System (EFFIS), provides continuous support to EU countries in early warning and monitoring of the fires. In 2019, this was extended to the monitoring of wildfires at the global level through the Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS).

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) runs EFFIS under Copernicus, the EU’s earth observation program. EFFIS provides a continuous monitoring of active fires and burnt areas in Europe, Middle East and North Africa, supporting the activities of the European Commission’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre.

In 2019, within the EU Civil Protection Mechanism framework, the Commission implemented new features to improve fire monitoring and early warning, including the development of the EFFIS Decision Support System. It compares the criticality of all ongoing fires in Europe to support decision making at the European Commission’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre.

Trends in 2020 and the global response

At the time of publication of this report, wildfires are raging in many regions of the world. Over 400,000 ha of natural areas have burnt in the EU so far this year, despite efforts to minimise wildfire impacts. The number of fires is about double the average for the same time in the last 12 years.

Globally, wildfires have devastated unique ecosystems in Australia and the extended Amazon region, from Argentina to Colombia and Venezuela. Over 64 million ha have burnt in this region in 2020, an area more than two times the size of Belgium. Wildfires have also caused unprecedented damage in western USA, causing many casualties and destroying large areas in the region.

The JRC publishes weekly reports of wildfire impacts in the extended Amazon region, shared with national fire management authorities in the relevant countries to help with response efforts. The JRC is also discussing a collaboration agreement with the Amazon Coordination Treaty Organization and countries in the region, as well as with the UN Environment Program (UNEP) for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

As in 2019, GWIS recorded an increase of wildfire activity in the Arctic in 2020. The JRC has recently become an EU observer for the Artic Council on wildfire monitoring, and will provide a significant contribution to monitoring through GWIS.

In the coming weeks, the JRC will publish country profiles of wildfire regimes for all countries in the world on GWIS. The profiles will provide unique information on wildfires regimes and impacts to support national fire management authorities and international organisations.

As published in the recent 2020 State of Climate Services report of the World Meteorological Organization, the JRC is providing a key contribution to wildfire disaster risk reduction in Europe and globally, through the development and operation of EFFIS and GWIS.


The Forest Fires in Europe, Middle East and North Africa reports are a unique source of information for fire managers and policymakers in European and neighbouring countries. They provide official statistics of wildfire impacts, reported annually by the fire administrations in these countries. This is the 20th report of the series, coordinated by the JRC with the support of other Commission services.

The JRC also works with other Commission services as part of the Expert Group on Forest Fires (currently 43 countries) to develop strategies for a harmonised and coordinated approach to enhance wildfire prevention and assess wildfire risk in Europe and neighbouring countries.

Guidance on wildfire prevention measures, coordinated by the Commission’s Directorate-General for the Environment, and the first pan-European wildfire risk assessment (coordinated by the JRC) will be published by the end of 2020.

Related Content

JRC report: Forest Fires in Europe, Middle East and North Africa 2019

The European Forest Fire Information System


Publication date
30 October 2020