The Mediterranean has become a ‘wildfire hotspot,’ EU scientists say

    07 Aug 2021

    The Mediterranean has become a wildfire hotspot, with Turkey hit by its most intense blazes on record and a heatwave producing a high risk of further fires and smoke pollution around the region, a European Union atmosphere monitor said on August 4.

    Wildfires are raging in countries including Greece and Turkey, where thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes, and on August 3, a fire threatened to reach a coal-fired power plant, Reuters states.

    The fires have struck as Southern Europe experiences an intense heatwave, with some places in Greece on Tuesday recording temperatures of over 46 Celsius (115 Fahrenheit).

    Human-induced climate change is making heatwaves more likely and more severe, scientists say. The EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) said the hot and dry conditions had hiked the danger of further fires. However, high temperatures alone do not trigger wildfires because they need a source of ignition.

    CAMS monitors wildfires through satellites and ground-based observation statements and said the emissions and intensity of wildfires are rapidly increasing in Turkey and Southern Italy.

    In Turkey, a key metric of fire intensity – the “fire radiative power,” which measures energy produced from burning trees and other matter – reached the highest daily values since data records began in 2003.

    Plumes of smoke from fires in southern Turkey were clearly visible in satellite images of the region. TCAMS said the forever. Definitiveevere scale of the fires caused high levels of particulate matter pollution over the Eastern Mediterranean area.

    Persistent exposure to particulate matter pollution is associated with cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer.

    “It is essential to watch these high-intensity fires as the smoke they emit closely can have impacts on air quality locally and downwind,” said Copernicus senior scientist Mark Parrington.

    Since late July, Italy, Albania, Morocco, Greece, North Macedonia, and Lebanon have all faced wildfires.

    On Wednesday, the European Commission said it had helped mobilize firefighting aircraft, helicopters, and firefighters to assist Italy, Greece, Albania, and North Macedonia.

    Greece battles wildfires for the third day, site of ancient Olympics saved

    Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said authorities were doing “whatever is humanly possible” to tackle wildfires burning across Greece for the third day on Thursday, including near the ancient site of the first Olympic Games, Reuters reports.

    Dozens of towns and villages have been evacuated since Tuesday, from the outskirts of Athens to the island of Evia near the capital and in the Peloponnese, as a protracted heatwave and strengthening winds fuelled more than 150 wildfires in recent days.

    The Civil Protection Authority issued an “extreme fire warning” for Friday as temperatures continued to hover around 40 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit).

    “If there are even few people who have reservations about whether climate change is real, I call on them to come here and see the intensity of the phenomena,” Mitsotakis said from Ilia, where a blaze on Wednesday threatened Ancient Olympia.

    The fire near the archaeological games site in Ancient Olympia continued to burn wooded areas on Thursday, prompting the evacuation of more villages, but its treasures had escaped danger.

    “Our forces fought an all-night battle… to keep the archaeological site and the town intact,” Citizens’ Protection Minister Mihalis Chrisohoidis said.

    The site, where the Olympic flame begins its journey to the city hosting the modern Olympics, is one of Greece’s most popular tourist attractions.

    “Nightmare with no end,” the Eleftheros Typos newspaper wrote on its front page on Thursday. “Fires Everywhere,” the left-wing Avgi said.

    On Evia, more than a dozen villages have been evacuated since Tuesday, with some 85 people rescued by boat from a beach, as the wildfire scorched pine trees and sent clouds of ash and smoke into the air. Miles away, skies in Athens were darkened.

    Authorities cleared more people from the island on Thursday as church bells sounded a warning, and more than 170 firefighters with 52 engines and six aircraft were operating in the area.

    The armed forces announced the doubling of fire patrols this month and offered vehicles to help with evacuations.

    Fires that had threatened the northern outskirts of Athens on Tuesday rekindled on Thursday, with firefighters and aircraft still working there. An Athens prosecutor launched a preliminary probe into the causes of the fire, which burned scores of homes.

    The opposition Syriza and KINAL parties have accused the government of being slow to respond to Tuesday’s blaze, while winds were still low and conditions favorable.

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