A global conservation group has warned of faster-spreading “superfires” across Europe in the wake of heatwaves and droughts.

The longer periods of hot weather and reduced rainfall are seen by many as symptoms of climate change.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which issued the warning, has said the current approach to tackling wildfires in the continent will be “obsolete” in fighting a new kind of superfires.

European wildfires are most common in the Mediterranean, but recently traditionally wetter northern countries have also struggled with huge forest blazes.

An average of 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres) of forest burn every year in the continent, European data shows.

Firefighters are seen near wildfires near Cuevas del Valle in Spain in June

A report from WWF Spain has said the fires cost Europe an estimated €3bn (£2.7billion) annually.

Apart from rising global temperatures, the group cited rural depopulation and chaotic urbanisation as being responsible for the worsening of wildfires.

Hard-to-extinguish superfires that were fanned by strong winds and phenomena such as updraft killed 225 people in Portugal, Greece and Spain between 2017 and 2018.

The fires are expected to worsen due to an inadequate allocation of resources and rising global temperatures.

WWE Spain said in its report: “The current policy regarding fighting wildfires, which is based exclusively on a system of extinguishment, is obsolete and inefficient in fighting a new kind of ‘superfires’.”

A helicopter drops water to distinguish a wildfire in Toledo in Spain
A helicopter drops water to distinguish a wildfire near Toledo

The group has called for more prevention measures, including better forestry management.

At least 13 people have died in Europe’s most recent heatwave, with many countries such as France surpassing their highest ever recorded temperatures.

Hundreds of firefighters and 10 aircraft battled to contain wildfires in southern France which burned more than 600 hectares (around 1,500 acres) of land in the Gard region.

The Spanish military deployed a unit of 120 specialists to help local firefighters after a major wildfire broke out in the Catalonia region.

More than 1,400 European wildfires have already been reported in 2019.

Deadly wildfires in California left at least 65 people dead as they swept across the southern US state in November 2018.

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