More uncontrollable wildfires with larger impact on society

An increased part of the Netherlands will face more wildfires in the future. “Wildfires are more often becoming intense fires that cannot be extinguished, only stopping when there is no more fuel. Combined with further densification of our country, this will lead to a growing impact on health, welfare, nature and economy. Because drought and heat reinforce each other, wildfire risks are expanding faster than climate is changing,” according to researcher and project leader Hans Hazebroek of the Netherlands Institute for Public Safety.

Wildfires are a very relevant topic both within the Netherlands and abroad. The question is whether and how wildfires in the Netherlands are changing as a result of climate change. Which (future) developments should we take into account? In recent months this issue was addressed by a consortium of experts from knowledge institutes Netherlands Institute for Public Safety, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, Wageningen University & Research, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Deltares. Their findings were published today in the report Natuurbrandsignaal ’23 (in Dutch).

More and intensifying wildfires

The researchers have concluded that wildfires are changing. Hazebroek: “The Netherlands has become warmer, drier and sunnier and this trend is expected to continue. Also, the average groundwater level will drop in parts of the country. More vegetation will become vulnerable to fire as a result, and the number of fire-prone days will grow.” He adds: “Climate trends may also make wildfires more intense. With the current outlook, we are more likely to face uncontrollable fires that cannot be fought with our fire services’ current tactics, technology and capacity. The likelihood of such fires occurring simultaneously also increases. And lastly, wildfires will also occur in parts of the country that so far have had little or no exposure to them.”

Larger impact

The increase in number and intensity of wildfires, combined with further densification of the Netherlands, will lead to a larger impact: “People will have to flee more often, there will be more direct and indirect damage to vital infrastructure, and irreparable damage to flora and fauna will occur more frequently. In addition, people’s health will be threatened more often. Not only of those who are in or around natural areas, but also of firefighters who have to work under tougher conditions,” Hazebroek says. Furthermore, an increase in (simultaneous) wildfires may put more pressure on the firefighting system: the demand for help may exceed the availability of resources.

Wildfire expert Cathelijne Stoof of Wageningen University & Research emphasises the importance to acknowledge wildfire risks. “It is an underestimated risk that we don’t think about, until it happens to us. But then we are too late. It is very important that action is taken, which is also shown by this report.”

Recommendations

The consortium makes the following recommendations:

  • In order to limit wildfire consequences and risks, prevention and fighting should become a structural component of fire services. So far, the firefighting system has mainly focused on prevention, controlling and fighting of (limited) fires in buildings.
  • Wildfire risks should be taken into account when designing the Dutch landscape.
  • More knowledge needs to be acquired for a deeper understanding of wildfire risk development, including quantitative insights, and to provide well-informed action perspectives to governments, fire services and land managers.

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.