The Mediterranean, A Wildfire Hotspot

Wildfires in the Mediterranean

Drought and scorching temperatures have turned the Mediterranean region into a "wildfire hotspot," according to EU scientists.

Statista: Turkey, Greece and Italy Battle Historic Fires, Aug 10, 2021.

DW News: Turkish power plant overtaken by wildfires, August 5, 2021.

Why This Matters

Although high fire danger levels are common this time of year in southeast Europe, the prolonged drought and extreme heat has provided "the perfect grounds for fires to spread in case of ignition," the EU's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service writes.

The hot and dry conditions just needed a spark to get going, and now that they are raging, it's also a public health concern due to the smoke and fine particulates. Athens recorded some of the worst air quality in the world this week with dozens of people needing to be hospitalized due to the heat and smoke. The government has ordered Athenians to stay indoors to avoid inhaling the smoke.

Even the Monks are Concerned

"It's a very difficult situation," the monastery's abbot told the state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency. "The flames are 30 to 40 meters [98 to 131 feet] high inside the pine forest and have encircled the monastery. We’re choking on the smoke. It's a nightmare."

The Mediterranean Forecast: Hotter & Dryer

Unfortunately, the forecast for Greece and the surrounding Mediterranean region is worse droughts and more hot temperatures. Scientists predict a 2-degree Celsius rise in temperature by 2050.

Even among other cities in the region, Athens stands out. It's the warmest city in Europe, and an analysis of 571 European cities predicted that by midcentury, the Greek capital would experience some of the continent’s most substantial droughts and heatwaves. On top of accelerating climate conditions, Athens also lacks green space as a result of the post-World War II building boom that led to an "uncontrolled" building boom. Now, projects are underway to create more urban pocket parks, reduce car lanes, and rein in the city's traffic pollution -- which, in addition to pumping carbon into the atmosphere, damages the city's ancient monuments.

"What we are facing is not a climate crisis but clearly a climate emergency," the mayor of Athens, Kostas Bakoyannis, told the Guardian earlier this year. "If we're to do our job well we have to adhere to the principles of resilience and sustainability."

The Guardian: Climate Crisis - One Month of Flash Floods, Wildfires and Heatwaves, July 29, 2021.

PBS: A leaked UN report warns 'worst is yet to come' on climate change, June 23, 2021.