The Mediterranean, A Wildfire Hotspot

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Fueled by drought and scorching temperatures, the Mediterranean area is now regarded as a “wildfire hotspot,” according to European Union scientists.

Why This Matters: Although high fire danger levels are common at this time of year in southeast Europe, the prolonged drought and extreme heat waves “provide the perfect grounds for fires to spread in case of ignition,” the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service writes. The hot and dry conditions still need a spark to get going, but now that they are raging, it’s also a public health concern.

Athens had some of the worst air quality in the world this week, and the government ordered locals to stay indoors to avoid inhaling the smoke. Dozens of people in the Greek capital have been hospitalized because of the smoke and heat. 

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 and Dryer: Unfortunately, the forecast for Greece and the surrounding Mediterranean region is worse droughts and more hot temperatures. Scientists are predicting 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, it would experience the worst increases in severe drought and heatwaves. On top of accelerating climate conditions, the Greek capital 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,” Athens mayor, 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.”

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