Wildfires like those we’re seeing on the Greek islands are not unusual at this time of year, experts say – but there’s a warning that the effects of climate change are making them more frequent and ferocious.
Professor Stefan Doerr, director of the Centre for Wildfire Research at Swansea University, says places like Rhodes have “ample flammable grass, shrub and conifer forest vegetation” – perfect fuel for fires which can spread quickly in high winds.
Professor Doerr says other islands like the popular holiday destination of Crete are also at risk of wildfires for this reason.
Dr Matthew Jones, a senior research fellow at the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, says what’s making these fires worse is they’re “exposed to maritime winds that are helping to fan the blaze”.
And another factor he points to is: “The hilliness of some of these islands also lends itself to rapid fire spread, because fires travel faster upslope than they do downslope or on flat ground.”
Dr Jones says people living in these environments are accepting a level of risk.
But he warns climate change is affecting “the frequency of the weather conditions that enable fires like this to break out, and also to burn so intensely and synchronously across the Mediterranean”.
Dr Jones points to a “dramatic increase” in the regularity of hot-dry conditions which were considered extreme at the end of the 1900s.
Prof Doerr said a focus on the ignition source of the fires also “distracts from the main issues” of landscapes becoming more flammable due to extreme weather triggered by climate change, and “insufficient management of vegetation”.