• Schuyler Beltrami

Wildfires Sweep Through Mediterranean Countries

Wildfires have been spreading throughout Mediterranean countries as extreme heat dries out the land in places from Spain to Turkey, leaving at least eight people dead and hundreds hospitalized.



(Photo: Al-Jazeera)


A band of intense and deadly wildfires have swept through Southern Europe from Spain to Turkey in a ferocious display of extreme heat and extreme drought. The wildfires are part of a larger trend throughout Europe in which large scale wildfires have burned hundreds of hectares of forests, even in cold-climate countries like Russia and Finland. The fires could not have come at a worst time for the countries who depends very much on tourism, as some of the fires have required the evacuation of tourist resorts or tourist cities.


Turkey

Perhaps no country has been hit as hard by the wildfires than Turkey. For over a week, wildfires have been raging across the Southern coastline of Turkey, affecting the vitally important tourism centers of Bodrum and Antalya. Temperatures have regularly reached over 40°C (104°F), and Turkey recorded its hottest temperature ever at the end of July, where parts of the southeast of the nation reached 49,1°C (120,3°F). According to Al-Jazeera, at least eight people have died as a result of the fires and nearly 120.000 hectares (300.000 acres) of land have been burning since the fires began at the end of July. Strong northeasterly winds are causing much trouble for the firefighters trying to fight the blaze, as they continue to grow without impediment. According to multiple sources on the ground in Turkey, it is not uncommon for entire villages to be reduced to ruble within hours as fires blaze all around. Especially in the poorer areas of Turkey, the firefighters are often not equipped to battle the blazes, running out of water, and only having surgical masks to protect their lungs from the infernos. One village, Sirtkoy, which depends on the growing of bay leaves to sustain their economy, lost nearly their entire crop yield in one day due to fires. Villagers were seen dousing their houses with bottled water to try and save what they can before escaping from the thick smoke billowing around them, according to Al-Jazeera. Although some smaller fires have now been contained, including some which threatened the metropolitan area of Istanbul, fires in the southwest of Turkey are still not close to being contained.

Despite the humanitarian tragedy, there has been political controversy connected with the fires. So far, Turkey has appealed for appropriate help from around the world, and has received aid from neighboring states, as well as the European Union and Russia. Most of this aid has been in the form of firefighting trucks and aircraft, but there has been strong criticism from Turkey’s own people about the response by the government, which they see as too slow and insufficient to combat the flames. With an underequipped firefighting team and a lack of firefighting planes, many political parties have mobilized volunteers in the affected areas to do what they can to relive the burden upon those who have evacuated, by handing out food and clothing to the affected. Many have said that the government should have been more prepared for a very predictable season of strong fires but were slow to react. The effects of climate change have been easy to see in the drought-afflicted country. In May, a lake in the east of the nation completely dried up and large amounts of birds were found dead from dehydration. Some experts have called for an increase in controlled burns to happen in the next years in order to prevent these uncontrollable fires, which have left a wave of destruction in their wake.


Greece

Turkey’s neighbor, Greece, has also not been immune from the surge of fires battering the Mediterranean coastline of Europe over the past two weeks. People have been evacuated from areas around the country, most notably on the Peloponnese peninsula to the west of the nation’s capital, Athens. Patras, the third largest city in the country, was under direct threat of a fire which has mobilized more than 200 firefighters and eight firefighting planes to try to combat the flames. The forest fires, which effect Greece on a yearly basis, are bigger and more dangerous than in past years, threatening urban centers and tourist areas. The area has been hurt by a monstrous heat wave, seeing temperatures soar to 44°C (111°F). According to Michalis Chrysochoidis, Citizen Protection Minister for Greece, as many as 56 wildfires are breaking out every 24 hours and they are spreading around the mainland of the country and even to some of the Aegean islands, such as Kos and Evia. According to the latest reports from The Guardian, parts of northern Athens have been evacuated as the fires breach the surroundings of the ancient city. The Regional Governor of Athens, George Patoulis, has expressed concern over the inability of firefighters to control the fires, citing dangerous heat and thick foliage as reasons for the unpredictability of the fires. Star NBA player and recent NBA Champion Giannis Antetokounmpo was forced to cancel planned celebrations in the city and tweeted his support to the city and the country battling the flames. So far member countries of the EU and Russia have provided support to the Greek firefighting forces, and trucks and firefighting aircraft were seen above Athens. The nation’s national fire service issued a warning for the rest of the week, which has prompted some populated areas to close down businesses early. The fires are also threatening some historic sights, such as Olympia, site of the world’s first Olympic Games in 776 BC. As temperatures continue to climb above 40°C and winds continue to spread the fires, there is little hope for immediate containment of the wildfires.


Wildfires have also affected other countries, including Spain, Italy, Albania, and Bulgaria prompting a European-wide effort to contain the fires from spreading out of control. In July, fires burned for weeks in Russia and the Ukraine as temperatures there broke records, including in Siberia, where it was as warm as Spain. Many of the world’s leading experts point to the fires as direct evidence of climate change and warn that more and more fires will spread and become worse, as the effects of climate change continue to negatively affect our planet.

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