Wildfires in southern Europe cause frequent extensive economical and ecological losses and, even human casualties, such as the fires in Greece and Italy in 2007 (Amraoui et al., 2012) or in Portugal in 2003 (Trigo et al., 2006). Comparatively to other Mediterranean countries, Portugal is the country with more burnt area and also number of fires per unit area in the last decade (Pereira et al., 2011), mainly during the summer season (Pereira et al., 2005; 2011). According to the fire records available, between 1980 and 2009, wildfires have affected over 3 million hectares in Portugal (JRC, 2011), which corresponds to approximately a third of the Portuguese Continental territory (Figure 1). Furthermore, contrary to other Mediterranean countries (e.g. Spain, Italy, France, Greece), Portugal shows a clear upwards trend for the density of fires (Pereira et al., 2011), with many fires occurring several times over the same region (Figure 2).
Over Portugal the recent years of 2003 and 2005 were particularly outstanding, registering, respectively, total burned areas of 425 726 ha (Trigo et al., 2006) and 338 262 ha (Pereira et al., 2011). However, while the 2003 was triggered by an exceptional heatwave that struck Western Europe (Trigo et al., 2005; 2006), the fire season registered in 2005 was coincident with one of the most severe droughts of the 20th century (Garcia-Herrera et al., 2007; Gouveia et al., 2009). This severe drought had a strong negative impact in vegetation dynamics having delayed significantly the vegetation recovery process that followed (Gouveia et al., 2010; Bastos et al., 2011).
The Climate Change group of Instituto Dom Luíz research activity focuses on fire activity in Mediterranean Europe, with a particular emphasis in Portugal, based on fires detected by remote sensing and registered by the Autoridade Florestal Nacional.
A significant number of studies have addressed the links between fire occurrences and meteorological variables and atmospheric circulation patterns (Pereira et al. 2005; Trigo et al., 2006; Pereira et al. 2011, Amraoui et al., 2012). Additionally the group has been focused on the assessment of landscape components affected by fires and fire hazards (Pereira et al. 2005, Pereira et al. 2011, Bastos et al. 2011; Gouveia et al. 2012). Finally the group collaborates with other IDL groups that focus on mapping fires (Libonati et al. 2010; Libonati et al. 2011);
Figure 1. Fire scars mapped from 1980 to 2009.
Figure 2 Fire frequency in Portugal from 1980 to 2009.