Wildfire scar

Summer 2022: exceptional wildfire season in Europe

July-August 2022

Wildfire scar
Wildfire scar

In July and August 2022 significant fire events took place across Europe, especially in France, Portugal and Spain.

Last Updated

14 December 2022

Published on

14 December 2022

By Anu-Maija Sundström (FMI), Sabrina Szeto, Julia Wagemann and Federico Fierli

Wildfire season in Europe typically spans from early June to late September. Wildfires occur more frequently, and are more extensively, in southern parts of Europe, than in the north. The wildfire season in Summer 2022 was exceptional, in terms of number of fires observed, extent of burned area (Figure 1), as well as high fire-related atmospheric emissions. According to The European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), from early June to mid August 2022 the number of detected fires in Europe was higher than the long term average of 2006-2021 and higher than the earlier maximum values since the start of the EFFIS data record in 2006.

Weekly burnt area in the EU countries in summer 2022 (red) as compared to the average (blue) and min/max values
Figure 1: Weekly burnt area in the EU countries in summer 2022 (red) compared to the long term average from 2006 to 2021 (blue). Data comes from blending of Sentinel-2, VIIRS and MODIS observations. Source: EFFIS.

Late-July/early-August saw an unprecedented wildfire activity, with up to 130,000 hectares burnt; this is especially related to fire events in south and south-west France, northern Spain, and Portugal. Enhancing factors for the increased fire activity in the area were the heatwaves experienced in July and August combined with severe drought, these led to dangerously elevated fire risk.

Fire activity in the Gironde area (south-west France) started on 17 July, and was particularly intense. It lasted two weeks and was followed by successive fire events until September. These fires caused severe destruction in the area and nearly 40,000 people were temporarily evacuated from their homes. In August, a second phase of fire activity occurred. Figure 2 shows the Fire Radiative Power (FRP) reported during this second phase on 10 August 2022, captured by Terra/Aqua MODIS with intense fire pixels concentrated south of the Gironde river area. These fires led to exceptional emissions of pollutants. Figure 3 shows the carbon monoxide (CO) column (from Copernicus Sentinel-5P TROPOMI) for the same day.

Fire radiative power observations from the MODIS instruments 18 July 2022, over France
Figure 2: Fire radiative power observations from MODIS, 18 July, over France. Image created with MODIS Juypter notebook
arbon monoxide plume observed by Copernicus Sentinel 5p/TROPOMI
Figure 3: Carbon monoxide plume observed by Copernicus Sentinel 5p/TROPOMI, originating from the Gironde fires in August 2022. Image created with Sentinel-5P Jupyter notebook

The burnt area as an effect of the two consecutive wildfire events was observed by Copernicus Sentinel-2 MSI on 20 September 2022 at 17:03 using a false colour composite (header image). The recipe for false colour composites is: Red-Green-Blue 12-8A-2. This means that the red channel was assigned to band 12 (shortwave infrared), the green channel was assigned to band 8A (near-infrared) and the blue channel was assigned to band 2 (the visible blue band). This recipe highlights burn scars in brown and healthy vegetation in green. The burn scar is clearly visible at the centre of the image.

The impact on global pollution is monitored by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) that confirms exceptional carbon monoxide (CO) concentrations and accumulated concentrations during the fire period.

Other parts of central Europe also experienced significant fire activity in Summer 2022. For example, in Germany, by the end of August, the cumulative weekly burnt area was twice as high as the maximum recorded between 2006 and 2021 (EFFIS).

Methodolgy

This case uses multiple satellite-based products to cover both land and atmospheric observations relevant for fire monitoring, with the help of comprehensive Jupyter notebooks. These notebooks focus on illustrating the fires that occurred in Gironde, France in July and August 2022 and feature the following operational EO data products:

All our Jupyter notebooks can be accessed via EUMETlab, EUMETSAT’s code repository.


Additional content

Europe’s summer wildfire emissions highest in 15 years (CAMS)
Fire trends in Europe in 2022 (EFFIS)
Forest fires have burned a record 700,000 hectares in the EU this year (Euronews)
2022 Southern Europe Wildfire Season Activity and Outlook (Crisis24)

Advance report on wildfires in Europe, Middle East and North Africa 2021 (JRC)