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There have been three times more wildfires in the EU so far this year

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Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire burning near the village of Makrimalli on the island of Evia, Greece, August 13, 2019.
Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire burning near the village of Makrimalli on the island of Evia, Greece, August 13, 2019. -
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More than 1,600 wildfires have been recorded in the European Union so far this year — more than three times the average over the past decade.

According to Copernicus' European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), an average of 464 wildfires hit the bloc by mid-August between 2008 and 2018. Latest data shows there have been 1,626 wildfires between January 1 and August 15 this year.

The rise in the number of blazes has reduced to ashes more than 271,000 hectares — 100,000 more than the average burnt over the same period during the last decade.

The EU disaster management system, rescEU, announced on Wednesday that it had helped mobilise three planes from Italy and Spain to help Greece as it tackles wildfires in several areas.

In France, firefighters have raised the alert to its highest level in the south-east of the country which has been particularly impacted by heatwaves with record temperatures as high as 46℃ recorded.

So far this year, more than 42,000 hectares have been ravaged by fire in France compared to just 5,124 last year and nearly double the 24,500 recorded in 2017, according to figures from the fire-fighting service.

Read more: EU sends help to Greece as firefighters battle wildfire near Athens

Forest fires on the rise?

2017 was a particularly dark year for European wildfires with a record 1.2 million hectares going up in flames — 800,000 in Portugal, Italy and Spain alone — claiming the lives of 127 civilians and unleashing economic damage worth an estimated €10 billion.

In a report released that year by the European Commission, the bloc's Joint Research Centre warned that "climate change will reduce fuel moisture levels from present values" and that the Mediterranean region would, therefore "become drier, increasing the weather-driven danger of forest fires".

"Furthermore, areas exhibiting low moisture will extend further northwards from the Mediterranean than present," it added.

In a separate report released the following year, the European Commission also warned that the fire season was becoming much longer.

Scientists from Spanish universities estimated in a study released in October that the number of wildfires in the European Mediterranean areas would increase by 40% if the rise in global temperatures was kept at 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels — as envisaged by the Paris Agreement — and up to 100% if temperatures rose by 2-3℃.

Read more: Before and after pictures show Greenland's rapid ice melt from space

Arctic regions have also been incredibly impacted this year with about 13.1 million hectares decimated by forest fires in Siberia, according to Greenpeace.

Danish firefighters were also deployed to Greeland earlier this week to help tackle a blaze getting closer and closer to inhabited areas.

The island, which is home to the planet's second-largest ice sheet, lost 160 billion tonnes of ice in July — 40% more than average — due to "persistent hot and dry weather."

These events represent a vicious cycle as they are fuelled by climate change and exacerbate the crisis even more.

Greenpeace estimated that the Siberian fires had so far emitted the same amount of CO2 as 36 million cars emit in a year.

Read more: Smoke from wildfires in Siberia 'covers an ear bigger than the EU'