Indicator Specification

Forest fires in Europe

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: CLIM 035
Published 30 Jun 2021 Last modified 30 Jun 2021
9 min read
This indicator monitors: the burnt areas in European countries; the current state of and projected changes in forest fire danger.

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)


Justification for indicator selection

No rationale has been identified for this indicator

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

This indicator monitors:

  • the burnt areas in European countries;
  • the current state of and projected changes in forest fire danger.


  • Burnt area is measured in hectares (ha).
  • FWI (no units) measures current forest fire danger and projected changes.

Policy context and targets

Context description

Forest fires are a significant disturbance agent in many forested landscapes. Frequent and large-scale fires have negative impacts on air and water quality, threaten biodiversity, increase the risks of soil erosion and spoil the aesthetics of a landscape. Forest fires also represent a threat to climate change mitigation, as they release large amounts of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, forest fires can cause large economic damages and the loss of human lives if they affect populated areas. Nevertheless, fires play an essential role in the dynamics of many ecosystems. They are an essential element of forest renewal, they help control insect and disease damage, and they reduce the build-up of fuel and thus the intensity of future fires.
Fire risk depends on many factors such as climatic conditions (e.g. humidity, temperature and wind), vegetation (e.g. fuel load and condition), topography, forest management practices and socio-economic context. The large majority of wildfires in Europe are ignited by humans, either accidently or intentionally. However, climatic factors and the availability of fuel determine the conditions under which fires occur and spread, once ignition has occurred. The extreme fire episodes and devastating fire seasons of recent years in Europe were, in most cases, driven by severe fire weather conditions. Thus, climate change is expected to have a strong impact on forest fire regimes in Europe.

In February 2021, the European Commission adopted a new EU strategy for adaptation to climate change (EC, 2021b). The new strategy sets out how the European Union can adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change and become climate resilient by 2050. It has four principle objectives: to make adaptation smarter, swifter and more systemic, and to step up international action on adaptation to climate change. The strategy builds on the 2018 evaluation of the 2013 EU adaptation strategy (EC, 2018b), accompanied by a Commission staff working document (EC, 2018a). An open public consultation was conducted in preparation for the new strategy between May and August 2020.
The EU forest strategy (EC, 2013) is a key part of forest-related policy development. It aims to coordinate and ensure the coherence of forest-related policies and allow synergies with other sectors that influence forest management. EU forests and the forest sector need to be positioned in a way that ensures their contribution to the EU’s objectives and targets. In early 2021, the Commission has conducted a public consultation for a new EU forest strategy, expected to be adopted later in 2021 (EC, 2021a).


No targets have been specified.

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified

Key policy question

Forest fires in Europe, aggregated assessment level

Specific policy question

Forest fires in Europe, disaggregated assessment level



Methodology for indicator calculation

Historical fire data series are available in Europe and regularly updated by EFFIS. EFFIS addresses forest fires in Europe in a comprehensive way, providing EU-level assessments from pre-fire to post-fire phases, thus supporting fire prevention, preparedness, fire-fighting and post-fire evaluations.

To complement the data, information from past forest fires is routinely used to rate fire potential due to weather conditions. The Canadian FWI is used by EFFIS to rate daily fire danger conditions in Europe.


De Rigo, D., et al., 2017,Forest fire danger extremes in Europe under climate change: variability and uncertainty, JRC Technical Reports No EUR 28926 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg ( accessed 6 March 2021.

EC, 2013, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions ‘A new EU forest strategy: for forests and the forest-based sector’ (COM(2013) 659 final).

EC, 2018a, Commission Staff Working Document — Evaluation of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change accompanying the document ‘Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the implementation of the EU strategy on adaptation to climate change’ (SWD(2018) 461 final).

EC, 2018b, Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the implementation of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (COM(2018) 738 final).

EC, 2018c, ‘The largest EU civil protection operation helps Sweden fight forest fires’, European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations ( accessed 6 March 2021.

EC, 2020,Forest fires in Europe, Middle East and North Africa 2019., Publications Office, Luxembourg.

EC, 2021a, ‘Commission consults on new EU Forest Strategy’, New EU Forest Strategy ( accessed 27 May 2021.

EC, 2021b, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions ‘Forging a climate-resilient Europe — the new EU strategy on adaptation to climate change’ (COM(2021) 82 final).

Khabarov, N., et al., 2016, ‘Forest fires and adaptation options in Europe’,Regional Environmental Change16(1), pp. 21-30 (DOI: 10.1007/s10113-014-0621-0).

Turco, M., et al., 2016, ‘Decreasing fires in Mediterranean Europe’,PLOS One11(3), e0150663 (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150663).

Turco, M., et al., 2018, ‘Exacerbated fires in Mediterranean Europe due to anthropogenic warming projected with non-stationary climate-fire models’,Nature Communications9(1), p. 3821 (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-06358-z).

Van Wagner, C. E., 1987,Development and structure of the Canadian forest fire weather index system, Forestry Technical Report No 35, Canadian Forestry Service, Ottawa, Canada (

Venäläinen, A., et al., 2014, ‘Temporal variations and change in forest fire danger in Europe for 1960–2012’,Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences14(6), pp. 1477-1490 (DOI: 10.5194/nhess-14-1477-2014).

Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.


Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures



Methodology uncertainty

Not applicable.

Data sets uncertainty

Information on forest fires is collected in the JRC’s European Fire Database. This database is an important component of EFFIS. Forest fire data are provided each year by individual EU Member States in accordance with several EU regulations, and additional data from other European countries are checked, stored and managed by the JRC within EFFIS. Time series on forest fires for the five European countries most affected by forest fires (EUMED5) go back to 1980; data from other countries have been increasingly available since 1990. EFFIS covers all EEA member countries except Iceland. Currently, the database contains over 2 million individual fire event records. Data quality is generally high. However, a few countries have changed their reporting methodology over time, such as Greece in 1998.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Hans-Martin Füssel


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
CLIM 035
Version id: 5

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 2 years


DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
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