Jan 23, 2023 at 06:00
There are great concerns about wildfires in the Netherlands. In the future, a larger part of the Netherlands will be affected by wildfires, they will probably occur more often and they will be much more difficult to stop. With all its consequences for nature and the Dutch themselves.
This is the conclusion of a study published on Monday by the Netherlands Institute for Public Safety (NIPV), the KNMI, the University of Wageningen (WU), the Free University of Amsterdam (VU) and the Deltares research institute.
The report paints a sad prospect. “There is a change of wildfires going on,” is the conclusion. For example, the risk of wildfires is increasing due to climate change: it is getting warmer and drier. This trend is likely to continue in the coming years, although it is unclear how quickly. That is why the researchers cannot state with certainty how fast the wildfire risk is increasing in the Netherlands.
Due to the drought, the average lowest groundwater level will in any case fall in large parts of the Netherlands. This causes more plants and crops to become more flammable, leading to more so-called ‘fire sensitive days’.
In addition, the risk of ignition, or causes of a wildfire, is likely to increase. The vast majority of fires are caused by humans, for example due to carelessness with a campfire or barbecue. The population and the amount of time the Dutch spend in nature are expected to grow in the coming years. “This contributes to the expectation that more wildfires will occur,” the researchers said.
The Ministry wants to develop more forest, but is lagging behind
The cabinet wants to increase the amount of forest in the Netherlands by 10 percent before 2030. To this end, the ministry is looking at transforming an agricultural area into a nature reserve. The researchers warn about this: “The vegetation is now sometimes irrigated, and soon not or hardly at all. This creates a potentially larger area with combustible vegetation.” The cabinet is lagging behind: since the strategy was launched in 2020, there has been a limited decrease in the total area of forest in the Netherlands.
Firefighters will no longer be able to extinguish flames
In addition, fires are becoming increasingly intense, so that the fire brigade can no longer extinguish the flames. Instead, they have to wait for the moment when there is no more ‘fuel’ for the wildfire. An additional problem is that wildfires are increasingly likely to rage simultaneously, forcing the fire service to split its resources and increasing the likelihood of significant damage.
“With the current outlook, uncontrollable fires will occur more often that can no longer be fought with the current tactics, technology and capacity of the fire service,” the researchers write.
Restoration of nature reserves is possible, but very expensive. Replanting and laying paths costs an average of up to 1,200 euros per hectare. But in the past, such as the fire on the Kalmthoutse Heide in 2011, the costs ran up to 6,000 euros per hectare.
Damage will increase, in spring and summer
Currently, there is mainly a risk of wildfires in the spring. In the future, there will also be a (long-term) risk of wildfires in the summer, the researchers conclude. The seas of flames will have a greater impact and more and more people will have to flee (temporarily).
At the same time, traffic and goods transport will be disrupted more often, for example due to the deployment of emergency services or smoke development. “And without material damage and, for example, the failure of electricity, the fire damage can already amount to several million euros per year,” the researchers continue. “Irreparable damage to flora and fauna will occur more often, and human health will be threatened more often.” It should be noted that in the past hundred years ‘only’ seven people died in wildfires, often while fighting a fire.
The focus of the fire service must be shifted, the researchers claim. “We are now mainly looking at limited and relatively short fires in buildings. But wildfires are larger in scale and last longer.”
The fire service must also be given extra resources and knowledge. “There can be such pressure in regions that the demand for help exceeds the availability of firefighting equipment,” the researchers conclude.
Recent wildfires in which many Dutch people had to flee:
August 2022, Ouddorp: part of a holiday park had to be evacuated due to a dune fire.April 2020, Herkenbosch: the village with over four thousand inhabitants was evacuated due to potential smoke nuisance from a nearby wildfire.April 2020, Griendtsveen/Helenaveen: some of the residents of the villages had to leave due to a fire in the Deurnese Peel.
Image: ANP / EPA
Read more about:
Leave a Reply