The Mediterranean, A Wildfire Hotspot
Drought and scorching temperatures have turned the Mediterranean region into a "wildfire hotspot," according to EU scientists.
- Turkey is experiencing its most intense fires on record. A few days ago, in the southwestern part of the country, one fire reached a coal-fueled power plant prompting the evacuation of the plant and nearby residential areas.
- Italy, Greece, Albania, and North Macedonia have also struggled to contain their wildfires, pushing the EU to send aid.
- In Greece, more than 80 fires were reported early this week as temperatures hit 117 Fahrenheit. An especially dangerous fire north of Athens forced thousands to evacuate, and other fires threatened to destroy the monuments at Olympia, a key site of antiquity.
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
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.