(Bloomberg) -- Drought and extremely high temperatures made worse by climate change across Europe have led to record levels of fire activity in the continent, with blazes burning through an area roughly equivalent to one-fifth of Belgium. 

Wildfires in the European Union have consumed 660,249 hectares (1,631,511 acres) of land for the year through August 13, according to data from the European Forest Fire Information System, which provides weekly updates on the fires. The area burnt this year is more than three times the average between 2006 and 2021.

The number of fires in the bloc is at its highest since at least 2006, with 2,300 recorded in mid-August—more than the total for any full year over the past 16 years. The combination of drought and a string of heat waves that have scorched Europe over the past few weeks has resulted in much of the continent remaining in high, extreme, or very extreme fire danger conditions for most of the summer, according to Europe’s Earth observation agency Copernicus. 

While it takes scientists time to determine whether a specific disaster like floods or a fire is directly linked to climate change, so-called attribution studies have determined that global warming made 10 times more likely the heat wave that brought 40-degree-Celsius temperatures for the first time in the UK. The same heat wave saw record temperatures across southwestern Europe.

Spain has been the country hit worst by fires, with 245,500 hectares burnt through mid-August, almost six times more than the average for this time of the year and more than the area burnt for any full year since at least 2006, according to the earliest publicly available data on the EFFIS website. Romania, France and Germany are also seeing unusual patterns of blazes this year. 

Carbon emissions from France’s fires, which are also contributing to the warming of the planet, are the highest since 2003, according to Copernicus, which uses satellites to track these emissions. Smoke from the blazes is also worsening air quality across the continent, while the high temperatures also resulted in extremely high ozone pollution, the agency said in a statement in July.

(Updates area for comparison in the first paragraph.)

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.