The Interplay of Climate Change and Increasing Forest Fires in Europe

The frequency and intensities of forest fires in Europe are growing, with climate change becoming an important driver for this trend. There is an intricate interplay of different environmental, climatic and biological factors in relation to climate change and forest fires. According to the most recent wildfires in Greece which destroyed an area larger than London. Greece’s Civil Protection and Climate Crisis Minister Vassilis Kikilias announced that there were 1,470 fires across the country in July, which burnt more than 190,000 hectares.

One of the key impacts of climate change is the rise in global temperatures, which directly influences the moisture content of forests and vegetation. The rate of evaporation increases as the temperature rises and this leads to poorer climatic conditions in a large part of Europe. This phenomenon has had a particularly strong impact on the Mediterranean region. According to research, the Mediterranean Sea is warming at a rate of approximately 1.5 times that of the global average, which has resulted in longer and more severe fire seasons. Forests are vulnerable to ignition and rapid dissemination of fires as a result of prolonged droughts and low soil moisture in these regions.

Changing precipitation patterns across Europe can also be attributed to climate change. More intense and concentrated rainfall events followed by prolonged dry periods have occurred in certain parts of the country. The erratic precipitation patterns lead to an environment where vegetation flourishes during wet periods, then rapidly dries down and becomes the main fuel for fires that occur in subsequent droughts. As is apparent from research in regions like Southern Europe, where the frequency of forest fires has increased, that type of climate can bring about an increase in fire risk.

Climate change can impact the composition of vegetation in forests, as well as encourage the growth of invasive species. Some areas may experience changes in the types of plants and trees present due to shifting climate zones. In addition, invasive species that thrive in warmer and drier conditions can outcompete native vegetation, altering the fuel load and fire behaviour. Research has highlighted how these changes can lead to more intense and difficult-to-control fires, as unfamiliar vegetation patterns can catch fire more easily and produce more heat.

The combination of warmer temperatures and shifting weather patterns has extended the duration of the fire season in many parts of Europe. Research indicates that the fire season in the Mediterranean region has extended by approximately two months over the past several decades. This extended period provides more opportunities for ignition and fire spread, increasing the likelihood of destructive wildfires.

While climate change plays a crucial role in exacerbating fire conditions, human activities often provide the initial spark. Research demonstrates that many forest fires are a result of human activities such as discarded cigarette butts, agricultural practices, and even intentional arson. The synergy between climate change-induced dryness and human-caused ignition sources amplifies the risk and impact of forest fires.

The increasing frequency and intensity of forest fires have significant consequences for ecosystems and biodiversity. Research shows that repeated fires can lead to the transformation of ecosystems, favouring fire-adapted species over others. This can disrupt the natural balance and lead to a loss of biodiversity. Furthermore, large and severe fires can cause lasting damage to soil quality, making it harder for vegetation to recover after the fire.

The changing nature of forest fires due to climate change poses challenges for fire management and suppression efforts. Research suggests that the changing fire behavior, including the occurrence of more extreme fire events, can overwhelm traditional firefighting strategies. Moreover, the lengthening fire season puts additional strain on firefighting resources and increases the risk of exhaustion among fire personnel.

The evidence is clear: climate change is playing a pivotal role in the increasing frequency and severity of forest fires in Europe. The intricate interactions between rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, vegetation shifts, and human activities create a perfect storm for these devastating events.

Urgent actions are needed to mitigate climate change and its impact on forest fires. By addressing the root causes of climate change, adopting sustainable land management practices, and enhancing firefighting capabilities, Europe can work towards reducing the risk and damage caused by these destructive fires and preserving its precious ecosystems for future generations.


Ketan Dattani ~ CEO and Founding Owner of Buckingham Futures

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