Thousands of Olive Trees Destroyed by Wildfires in Tuscany

High temperatures, windy weather and dry soil served as a catalyst for the estimated 279 wildfires burning across the central Italian region.

Aug. 4, 2022
By Paolo DeAndreis

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Wildfires are burn­ing hun­dreds of hectares of olive groves, vine­yards, forests and farm­land across the cen­tral Italian region of Tuscany as the country’s scorch­ing sum­mer drags on.

In the south of the region, 2,400 res­i­dents of a vil­lage on the slopes of Mount Amiata were evac­u­ated as local author­i­ties strug­gled to con­tain the flames.

Local grow­ers are now see­ing ash in place of those orchards where they used to play when they were kids. It is about time to work on pre­ven­tion.- Andrea Elmi, pres­i­dent, Coldiretti-Lucca

Farther north, in Chianti, renowned for its wine pro­duc­tion and olive grow­ing, flames enveloped an aban­doned olive grove. From there, the wild­fire quickly moved to a forested area close to a res­i­den­tial one.

Regional author­i­ties said winds, high tem­per­a­tures and soil dried out by the pro­longed drought resulted in the blazes in one of Italy’s most impor­tant agri­cul­tural regions.

See Also:2022 Wildfire Season Expected to Be Europe’s Worst

In Lucca, west of Florence and not far from the coast, a large wild­fire has destroyed hun­dreds of ancient olive trees dot­ting some of the pic­turesque hills of the Massarosa area.

Local farm­houses had to stop oper­a­tions for at least a few weeks, caus­ing a severe set­back as July and August are the peak months for such agri­tourism.

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Meanwhile, another wild­fire has affected the area around Siena, in cen­tral Tuscany. As a result, res­i­dents of the region have become accus­tomed to see­ing air­craft and heli­copters fly­ing to and fro as they sup­port the con­tain­ment oper­a­tions car­ried out by fire­fight­ers and vol­un­teers.

The farm­ers asso­ci­a­tion Coldiretti has esti­mated that 279 wild­fires have burned across Tuscany in June, a 136-per­cent increase com­pared to June 2021.

According to the asso­ci­a­tion, blazes have dev­as­tated 549 hectares in Tuscany in the first six months of the cur­rent year. The area has also expe­ri­enced a 77-per­cent drop in rain­fall in the same period.

We went to Massarosa and found a dire sit­u­a­tion, with hun­dreds of hectares involved and rel­e­vant dam­ages caused to olive groves,” Andrea Elmi, pres­i­dent of the Lucca branch of Coldiretti, told Olive Oil Times.

After such a dev­as­tat­ing wild­fire, those trees, those orchards do not exist any­more, as the fire has burned them from the roots,” he added. We have seen the some­times still intact canopies col­lapsed right by the black smok­ing trunks.”

Elmi noted how the dam­age caused by the blazes weighs heav­ily on the farm­ers that own the groves and the rest of the affected areas. In many cases, the wild­fires have dam­aged small groves used by locals for non-com­mer­cial self-con­sump­tion.

Not only are the wild­fires fueled by aban­doned land where the lack of man­age­ment makes it eas­ier for the flames to spread, but as such blazes zero in on those small orchards, many landown­ers just give up and add their burned-down groves to the long list of aban­doned land,” Elmi said.

Coldiretti esti­mates that at least 60 per­cent of the wild­fires are caused by care­less­ness and arson.

See Also:Tuscan Producers Triumph at NYIOOC, Overcoming Late Frosts and Summer Heat

According to the asso­ci­a­tion, every hectare burned by the flames is cost­ing the com­mu­nity €10,000 on aver­age, expenses that cover the fire­fight­ing oper­a­tions, reme­di­at­ing the dam­aged land and account­ing for the eco­nomic dam­age.

To reme­di­ate a burned-down for­est, we will need at least 15 years, with dam­age to envi­ron­ment, income, jobs and tourism,” Coldiretti said of the dam­age to the heav­ily forested region.

Such dev­as­tat­ing inci­dents leave the locals with a sense of anger and loss,” Elmi added. For activ­i­ties such as farm­houses, the forced clo­sures and can­cel­la­tions rep­re­sent an imme­di­ate deple­tion.”

Local grow­ers are now see­ing ash in place of those orchards where they used to play when they were kids,” he said. It is about time to work on pre­ven­tion.”

Elmi empha­sized how com­bat­ing the aban­don­ment of olive groves and farm­lands should be con­sid­ered the first step.

We could work on that by mak­ing it eas­ier for farm­ers to set up and launch new agri­cul­tural activ­i­ties,” he said. Farmers need to see a path to earn an income, and nowa­days, that path is harder and harder to see.”

Production costs are sky­rock­et­ing, the effects of the Covid-19 pan­demic still loom over the sec­tor while the war in Ukraine makes every­thing more dif­fi­cult,” Elmi added. Farming today is for heroes.”

Elmi also remarked on the sig­nif­i­cance of the pro­posal that Coldiretti and other groups are sup­port­ing, the so-called small basins project.”

The project aims to build a net­work of thou­sands of small reser­voirs to col­lect rain­fall through­out the year that may be used by farm­ers for irri­ga­tion and by fire­fight­ers.

In the cur­rent period, with the war and the related uncer­tain­ties, a national effort is ongo­ing to iden­tify new and wider areas to grow sta­ple crops,” Elmi said. This can­not hap­pen in the Po Valley, as we have already reached the max­i­mum pos­si­ble expan­sion there, but it should hap­pen on the slopes of the Apennines, a more chal­leng­ing envi­ron­ment.”

There, those small basins would con­tribute to bring­ing those lands back to pro­duc­tion while also com­bat­ing the land aban­don­ment phe­nom­e­non and sup­port­ing the fire­fight­ing oper­a­tions,” he con­cluded.

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