July 2018 was the month in which Europe was heavily affected by wildfire events. There where forest fires in Sweden, in Greece and even in Germany there was one major forest fire event in July 2018. A Scots Pine Forest near Fichtenwalde was heavily affected by a fire, thus remembering German authorities that Germany can also be concerned by forest fires, – and recalling the terrible souvenirs of the Forest fires of the Lüneburger Heide in summer 1975. But it was Greece which was so heavily hit by several fire events, –the 2018 Attica wildfires – the city of Mati had to face a real “pyrotragedy” to use the words of Paulo Fernandes a portugese wild fire researcher. Mati has been more or less completely erased by the wildfires, a landscape of ruins and desolation and a very high dead toll – about 88 people were killed by the fires in Mati. For me the pictures of the landscape of ruins of Mati called up the souvenirs of the terrible fire event of Pedrógão Grande in Portugal last year.
Working on forest fires since the beginning of my academic career in 1992, I have been one of those scientists, who are continuously warning that climate change will also increase forest fire risks,. But I also warn, since the beginning 1990’s, when I was mapping wild fire risks in the “Garrigues de Nîmes” under the guidance of Louis Trabaud, Peter Frankenberg and Rainer Joha Bender that californisation & rural abandonment & bushencroachment are making the coming generation of forest fires so dangerous.
Californisation is the “terminus technicus” used in francophone geography, spatial planning and forestry for urban sprawl, housing, urban – forest interface, urban wild – interface etc. But I think the difference between the different English terms is that californisation also designs the intermix of housing and extremely high inflammable forest (or bushformations like Garrigues, Maquis, Matoral, Chaparal etc. ) and high fuel loading.
However what term you use, I prefer californisation, because I think it describes the landscape scenery we can see in many Mediterranean regions of the world perfectly. People want to live like “Californians” constructing their house into a “green scenery” of forests & parks, like in Santa Barbara in California. In fire prone ecosystems, and all Mediterranean ecosystems are fire prone ecosystems, housing in such scenery is just like living on “powder – keg”. A forest fire occurring in this environment is a deadly trap for people, – and this exactly happened in Mati. And what happened in Mati can happen in the suburbs of Lisbon, in the suburbs of Barcelona, Nîmes, Montpellier, Marseille, in La Marsa near Tunis ,- or in California or in Australia (even in the Mediterranean part of Chile and in the Cap region in South Africa). Working since the beginning of the 1990 in western European Mediterranean basin, I known so many locations in this area, where catastrophes like these which devasted Mati in Greece could also happen.
The combination of the consequences of climate change with the cocktail of californisation & rural abandonment will provide us more deadly fires in the Mediterranean regions of Europe (and perhaps also in Central Europe, Scandinavia etc.) – and I think society should react and force the governments to adapt their spatial planning to this enforced risk to see deadly forest fires spread up in that environment, to avoid situations that can lead to such fatal forest fires scenarios as the 1949 Landes Forest Fire which was the most deadly single fire which ever happened in Europe. Concerning the 2018 Attica wildfires, this was a run of different fires, according to informations I could get about the fire.
What happened in Greece in the Attica region in July 2018, what happened in Pedrógão Grande in June 2017, but also in October 2017 in Portugal, these are (or were) real “pyrotragedies” and I hope that the fire season, which is going on until the End of October (in European Mediterranean regions) will not provide us other “pyrotragedies” in the Mediterranean (or elsewhere).
But the real question is if the governments in Greece or in Portugal will learn something from these “pyrotragedies”? The 1949 Landes Forest Fire with is high dead toll of 82 people killed by the fire, – provide a real shock in France – and after this shock France has made an enormous effort of systematic planning and construction of system of “Defending Forest against Wildfire” – “Défense de la forêt contre les incendies (DFCI)” – which is now considered being one of the most effective “Anti Forest Fire Defence System” of the world. Perhaps someone should write down the history of the establishment of the French anti forest fire defense system, – as I know this has never been done – because this was not only success story, but the French responsible were able to learn from their different “failures”– and that is very important.
In this context also associations, like the “Forêt Méditerranéenne”, have a very important role, – just remembering all the conferences dedicated to “fire prevention & wild fire management” and also all the articles dealing with forest fire published in the revue “Forêt Méditerranéenne”. Articles published in this revue are read by the people working in the forests, – the technicians, the forest engineer in direct contact, at the “frontline” with the “wildfires”. But even this relatively effective system of forest fire management, which has been established in France, is now challenged by “climate change” as recently Thomas Curt and Thibaut Frejaville showed in a study about “Wildﬁre Policy in Mediterranean France”.
My personal opinion is that science and research cannot alone provide the solution, at least perhaps applied geography and spatial planning, because it is a societal problem – how do we deal with californisation (urban sprawl, forest & urban interface, whatever you call it) in a highly inflammable environment – environment which also has a notable charge of fuel loading. How can we manage this highly inflammable environment including climate change processes. It seems to be very difficult to find consistent solutions for that mix of problems. I personally, after working more or less since the beginning 1990s with forest fire risks, I have not “the solution”- but at least we should be honest to people living in this environment, to tell them, that they are living on a “powder – keg”. If there are no evacuation plans (and evacuation has to be trained), if fire brigades are not well trained and have a good equipment living & housing in such a fire prone environment can become very rapidly a deadly trap if a fire outbreak is not under control very very fast. Very very fast means to control the fire 30 minutes after outbreak, – after that threshold of 30 minutes it’s a very hard task to avoid the fire to run out of control and evolve into a large deadly fire event.
Concerning climate change, – I guess, that what I described here for Mediterranean regions, – we will have to face such scenarios also in Central Europe – because the californisation of landscape is also existing in Central Europe, – the intermix of vegetation with housing – and if climate change scenarios provided by climatologists are correct we will also be confronted with an higher risk of fire eclosion in Central Europe.
And what about climate change and fire risks in old world Mediterranean basin? I think it is very difficult to prove that climate change is responsible for the current fire situation in summer 2018 – or for the 2017 fires in Portugal or the Maghreb – but after all the paper I have read for my profession and also my own research work, I am convinced that climate change will make future wild fires more dangerous for people in the Mediterranean regions all over the world in the coming years.
Christophe Neff, Grünstadt 07.08.2018
P.S.: This blogpost is a revised and augmented version of a facebook post called “some words about the current forest fire situation in Greece” which I posted on Facebook on 25.07.2018.
 Original citation « No dia de 23 de julho o mundo foi surpreendido por mais uma pirotragédia, desta vez nos arredos de Atenas » , Paulo Fernandes, published in the « Jornal de Notícias » on Monday the 30 of July 2018.
 See also „Grèce : un ministre démissionne après les incendies meurtriers » in Le Monde.fr
 In the blogpost „Feux de forêts et lectures de paysages méditerranéens: (Écologie et biogéographie des forêts du bassin méditerranéen ; The Nature of Mediterranean Europe – an Ecological History ; Le feu dans la nature – mythes et réalité) »,published in juin2009, I remembered that i was one the first scientists, warning that climate change could lead to in increase in Forest Fire risks in Central Europe.
 In the blogpost “ The Fatal Forest Fire – remembering the “1949 Mega fire” in the „Forêt des Landes” (South West France)”,published in July2009, I wrote concerning the “1949 Landes forest fire”, that this fire event could be seen as a “historical model for expected forest fires due to global warming in non-mediterranean European forests”
 The results of the fire risk mapping were published as a litte book in 1995 in German “Waldbrandrisiken in den Garrigues de Nîmes (Südfrankreich) : eine geographische Analyse“ (ISBN 3-923750-50-1).
 Concerning Reiner Joha Bender see also “Blognotice 08.09.2014: Quatre jours de vacances à Leucate, de très petites vacances …. »
 For example see the special number of the revue forestière francaise dedicated to the fire year 1975 “RFF – SPECIAL – Les incendies de forêts – 1975 (http://documents.irevues.inist.fr/handle/2042/20010) or in 1990 the special number “RFF – SPECIAL – Espaces forestiers… – 1990 (http://documents.irevues.inist.fr/handle/2042/19854) of the same revue, entirely dedicated to forest fire management.
 Just to name two examples – in 1990 the French Mediterranean Forests were heavily affected by forest fires, especially the “Massif de Maures” had hard price to pay in this“wildfireseason”. Thus the “Forêt Méditerranéenne” dedicated special numbers of their revue “Incendies & Pin d’Alep T. XIII, n°3, 1992 (Forest fire and Aleppo Pine) and “Feux et forêts – Les feux de forêt et la sécheresse en 1990 T. XIII, n°1, 1992 (Fire and Forest – the forest fires and the drought of 1990) to this crucial fire year. Not only to understand what really happened on the terrain during the fire events – but also to improve “prevention”, “forest management” and “Fire defense”.
 See „Curt, T. & Frejaville, T: Wildﬁre Policy in Mediterranean France: How Far is it Efﬁcient and Sustainable?” in “Risk Analysis ·July 2017 DOI: 10.1111/risa.12855”
 Together with some colleagues we analyzed forest fire risks and climate change scenarios and the consequences for Tunisian ecosystems, see : Neff, C., Aloui, A., El Hamrouni, A., Souissi, A., Grossmann, A. (2007): Ecosystèmes. S. 33–43. In: République Tunisienne, Ministère de l’agriculture et des ressources hydrauliques, GTZ (Coopération technique allemande) (Hrsg.): Stratégie nationale d’adaptation de l’agriculture tunisienne et des écosystèmes aux changements climatiques, Cahier 7, Rapport des groupes d’ experts.