Wildfire damage in Europe jumps 75% in a year

Damage from large wildfires in Europe has jumped dramatically, with a 75% increase in the amount of land burnt in 2020, according to analysis by Chaucer. That year, 787,130 hectares of land were burnt across 35 European countries, up from 450,250 hectares in 2019.

The abandonment of traditional agriculture in Mediterranean countries has contributed to a build-up of vegetation, resulting in increased size and severity of fires. As Europe is a densely-populated continent, the potential for material losses to property are considerable.

The specialty re/insurer says modelling capabilities of wildfire risk in Southern Europe are less advanced than in the US and Canada; and that, as wildfires have only recently been considered a material peril, the modelling used to predict behaviour is not as developed as that of other natural catastrophes, such as hurricanes.

The high number of variables that influence wildfire behaviour, such as weather patterns, fuel, property characteristics , topography (orientation towards the sun and land gradient,
for example), also make patterns difficult to predict.

The countries with the largest increases in amount of land burnt in the past year include Bosnia and Herzegovina (246%); Croatia (130%); Italy (36%) and Greece (34%). A single fire in Bosnia and Herzegovina resulted in over 8,000 hectares being burnt.

Ellen Gyandzhuntseva, head of exposure management at Chaucer says: “The significant increase in land destroyed by wildfires is creating a challenge for the industry.”

“Climate change and shifting demographic patterns are making wildfires more dangerous. Until modelling becomes more sophisticated, and the risk is better understood, wildfire risk in Europe will be difficult to adequately price.

“Wildfires have only become a major priority as a peril relatively recently. However, given the increase in frequency and severity, losses are beginning to mount. We have already seen some re/insurers begin to limit their exposure as a result.”

A large wildfire is considered to be over 30 hectares.

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