Countries around the Mediterranean basin present the most serious forest fire problems in Europe. About 50,000 fires sweep away from 700x10³ to 1000x10³ ha of Mediterranean forests annually, causing enormous economic and ecological destruction. It has been estimated that the average area burnt per fire is 39 ha in Greece, 28 ha in Spain, 20 in Italy and 15 in Portugal. The destruction of forests is of great concern since this has many ‘side effects’, e.g. on floods, soil erosion and loss of fertility. Furthermore, forest fires play a fundamental role in determining the net carbon balance of the forest. Thus they may affect greenhouse gas emissions and in turn climate change. Forest fires are highly sensitive to climate change because fire behaviour responds immediately to fuel moisture, which is affected by rainfall, air moisture and temperature, and wind speed. So the projected increase in temperature will increase fuel dryness and reduce moisture and this effect will become worse in those regions where rainfall decreases. Increases in climate extreme events (such as severe droughts) are expected to have a great impact on forest fire vulnerability. As an example of forest fire risk in the Mediterranean region, the case of Andalusia region in Spain is presented below.
The most significant environmental problems in Andalusia, southern Spain are directly related to climatic conditions. So the Regional Ministry for the Environment of Andalusia is carrying out various activities aimed to assess the impacts of climate change and the establishment of mitigation measures.
Given the high natural heritage in the region and the extreme weather conditions during the summer months, forest fires are one of the environmental catastrophes the regional administration is most worried by. Traditionally, the effort has gone into the provision of means to extinguish forest fires once they have occurred. Now, there is another growing effort in the determination of indicators to assess the risks and the impacts that weather and climate have on forest fires.
This work on the development of environmental indicators is using climate change projections generated from the ENSEMBLES project. These indicators should become an essential tool for climate change impact assessment and help establish and develop appropriate mitigation measures.