Drought and wildfires in national Climate Impact Atlas

Published: 1 June 2021

There are hundreds of wildfires annually in the Netherlands. Researchers from Deltares, Wageningen Environmental Research and the Institute for Physical Safety (IFV) looked ahead to 2050 and found a doubling of the possible places where wildfires could occur.

The fire susceptibility maps were recently included in the Climate Impact Atlas. That means municipalities can produce better assessments of where there is a high risk of wildfires and how to prevent them. This is a first step towards making Dutch nature areas and the surrounding areas more fire-resistant.

Higher risk of fires during droughts

The cause of wildfires is usually human activity, such as a burning cigarette or sparks from a fire pit or barbecue. The risk of fires increases during longer dry periods. Climate change means we can expect longer droughts to become more frequent.

Why are the maps important?

Margreet van Marle, a researcher of wildfires and climate resilience: “We can see on the maps that the locations that are already prone to fire, such as the Veluwe or coastal areas, will also be at risk in the future. But large parts of the Netherlands that are not at risk now, or only exposed to a limited risk, will be more vulnerable in the future. And that is a cause for concern because, in a densely populated country like the Netherlands, a wildfire can easily result in damage and disruption. Take the fire in the Peel area last year, where residents had to be evacuated and motorways closed because of the smoke. So it is important for the Netherlands to make better preparations to cope with wildfires.”

A higher risk of fire says nothing about the duration or intensity of a fire. What matters here is the impact of a fire: are there any essential or vulnerable structures in the vicinity, how well can the fire be fought, how long and how intense can the fire be because of the presence of flammable material or the weather conditions?

Maps produced with innovative method

Wildfires are difficult to model and there is no information about them in the Netherlands like there is for flooding (such as maps with repeat times and intensities). So the RI2DE methodology developed by Deltares was used to produce the maps up to 2050. This method makes it possible to produce susceptibility maps for threats of this type, which are difficult to model, by combining different data sources. In collaboration with Wageningen Environmental Research and with input from the Institute for Physical Safety (IFV), the fire susceptibility map was set up and validated with data from approximately 1,000 wildfires recorded between 2017 and 2020.

How the Climate Impact Atlas helps

The Climate Impact Atlas helps you to obtain an initial impression of the consequences of climate change for your own area. The atlas consists of a viewer and map stories, and it shows floods, droughts, heat and flooding.