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Illustration by Security Management

Wildfires and Extreme Heat Grip Southern Europe

The latest surge of wildfires pushing through parts of Greece, Italy, Spain, and Turkey are now threatening areas near Greece’s capital. Adding to the list of mass evacuations throughout southern Europe, residents of both Athens and the nearby Greek island of Evia were forced to flee from the flames.  

Evia, which lies north of Athens, is the latest region impacted by the fires that have hit this part of Europe for more than a week, with high winds fueling the fires on the island.  

“On Monday Turkish authorities said more than 130 blazes had been contained as firefighting efforts continued,” the BBC reported, also noting that the fire outside of Athens is now under control by firefighters. “Italy's national fire service said it had to deal with more than 1,500 flare-ups across the country on Sunday.”  

“The Greek Fire Service said Wednesday it had been called to intervene in 78 forest fires in the past 24 hours,” CNN reported, adding that additional heat warnings were issued for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia. 

Emergency services are trying to battle against the fires, which are the worst that Turkey has had to deal with in roughly 10 years. The impacted regions were evacuated, with tourists sent to safety. The European Union (EU) has aided Greece and Italy by sending planes, helicopters, and firefighters to battle the blazes.  

Evia is not the first village in Greece to be evacuated. Residents left five other villages in the Peloponnese peninsular region, and temperatures in the country have reached 117 degrees Farenheit (47 degrees Celsius). 

Greece’s Ministry of Culture responded to the extreme temperatures with an order to close ancient sites, including the Acropolis museum, between noon and 5 p.m. through Friday.  

“The disasters in Turkey and Greece have been linked by officials and experts to increasingly frequent and intense weather events caused by climate change,” the BBC said. This year, Greece has experienced the most intense heatwave in the past three decades.  

The fires have threatened more than tourist hotspots. They have destroyed homes, businesses, cars, livestock, and forests in the regions, while the smoke from earlier fires hung heavy over Athens and forced the populace to remain indoors on 5 August. 

The EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reported that its data indicated that in Turkey and southern Italy, “the emissions and intensity of wildfires are rapidly increasing and countries like Morocco, Albania, Greece, North Macedonia, and Lebanon are also affected. ...Heatwave conditions are further increasing the fire danger in this area.” 

According to Politico, Athens ranked as one of the worst cities in air pollution on 4 August. 

“The smoke and heat sent dozens to the hospital with breathing issues,” Politico reported. “Greek Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias, who visited a general hospital in northern Athens on Wednesday morning, said ambulance services in the area received 77 calls from late Tuesday until Wednesday morning from people with breathing issues.” 

Europe, however, is not alone in experiencing extreme natural disasters.  

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season in the United States has already begun and the Climate Prediction Center for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting that another above-average hurricane season will hit the country.   

“NOAA scientists predict that the likelihood of an above-normal 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is 65 percent. There is a 25 percent chance of a near-normal season and a 10 percent chance of a below-normal season,” NOAA said in a press release.  

The administration is now estimating 15 to 21 named storms, where winds are at least 39 mph, and seven to 10 hurricanes, with winds speeds of at least 74 mph. Of the latter, three to five are expected to be major hurricanes, between Category 3 to 5 and with wind speeds of more than 110 mph. 

So far in 2021, five tropical cyclones have already formed in the Atlantic, large enough to merit naming. The most recent was Elsa.  

Although “Atlantic sea surface temperatures are not expected to be as warm as they were during the record-breaking 2020 season,” NOAA said, other conditions paired with the warmer sea temperatures are generating more active hurricane seasons, a trend since 1995.