Sardinia’s wildfires, an unprecedented disaster
In the last few weeks, huge wildfires occurred in Sardinia, causing severe damage to the vegetation, animals, and inhabitants of the area.
Every summer in southern Italy, where the temperature can reach up to 40°, a serious emergency occurs: the wildfires. This year, Sardinia seems to be the most affected region. Only in the last few days, about 20,000 hectares of vegetation had gone up in flames, and nearly 1,500 people have been evacuated from their homes. More than 7,500 extra workers, mostly firemen and forest policers, were employed to face the emergency.
Italy has also called for EU’s help. At the moment, France and Greece sent some firefighters planes to extinguish the wildfires. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi expressed his “full solidarity to everyone affected and support for all those tirelessly doing their best in the rescue efforts”.
The governor of Sardinia, Christian Solinas, has defined it as a “disaster without precedent”. Fortunately, the Italian authorities reported that no deaths or severe injuries to people occurred. However, hundreds of sheep, goats, cows and pigs died after being trapped in barns at farms, not to mention all the wild animals who lived in the forest that burnt – hectares of cork and holm oak forests, typical Sardinian’s vegetation. Among the damages that the fire caused, a thousand year old olive tree (Olea europaea oleaster), symbol of the village of Cuglieri, was destroyed by the flames. “This morning, the trunk was still burning,” wrote on his Facebook page Maria Giovanna Campus, a retired local archaeologist, posting the pictures of the dead tree. The images of the wildfires are really impressive: whole woods look like cemeteries.
It is not clear what caused the fire – the police of Oristano is still investigating. Sometimes, just a cigarette carelessly thrown out where the grass is dry can cause a big fire. Other times, people do it on purpose.
It has been estimated that the cost of the damages is about one million of euros. Furthermore, as the President of Agronomists and Foresters’ Ettore Crobu pointed out, “there is the hydrogeological risk connected to the effects of fires, because in areas destroyed by flames and where there is no longer the substrate, the risk of floods is considerable”.
According to some studies, from the beginning of the third millennium, the average area of wildfires increased. Giorgio Vacchiaro, researcher at Università degli Studi di Milano, tries to explain why in Un paese che brucia (2020) – literally, “A country that burns”. This book analyses the relationship between climate change and the increase of wildfires in Italy in the last years. He found out that there is a connection between the spread of wildfires and the meteorological conditions of the country. In fact, in the Mediterranean area, the average temperature is much higher compared to the past. Furthermore, summers are longer and drier. The low percentage of humidity favours the propagation of fire, because humidity would stop (or at least reduce) the fire to spread. Besides meteorological factors, the absence of institutions to monitor the woodland area is a big problem. In fact, the forests are often abandoned to themselves. Human intervention (i.e. monitoring and prevention of the risk) would be necessary to avoid such huge disasters.