The frequency and intensity of very large wildfires over the last ten years raises concern about the increased occurrence of ‘megafires’ worldwide. Devastating and almost uncontrollable fires like those, which have raged through Portugal, Spain and France in 2003, are a new type of megafire never encountered until recently. International experience is pointing to megafires becoming a common phenomenon in many parts of the world, driven in part by the consequences of global warming, i.e. the increasing occurrence extreme droughts, and by policies excluding the rational use of prescribed fire from areas to reduce those fuels that are determining the intensity and controllability of megafire fronts. As a general trend it can be observed that the wildfire problem worsened in the second half of the 20th century due to the abandonment of rural areas, the prolonged protection of forest lands and the growth of extensive wildland-urban interface areas. Notably in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Basin, fire is the main driver of vegetation degradation and destruction. As a consequence, the wildfire policies adopted by most European countries were focusing on fire exclusion regardless of the specific context. Besides the negative ecological effects of a general fire exclusion policy, successful fire suppression has lead to fuel accumulations among all vegetation types that are now bearing a high risk potential for catastrophic fire events. These, in turn, mainly shaped most policy-makers´ perception of fire as a disastrous force.
The changing nature of these very large fires requires consideration of new national approaches to prevention and preparedness to help managing the risk to people, property and other values at risk, as well as national or environmental assets such as water and vegetation cover. Policies and practices may need to be revised and new research required to under-pin new directions. With this goal in mind, this document discusses multiple aspects of fires in Europe, and includes sections on hazard profiles, scientific background, methods of fire hazard assessment, and results and Trends.
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