DISCUSSION: Over the past week, a series of wildfires have been burning across the Attica region of Greece. The first of these fires began in Kineta, a beach town around 30 miles west of Athens, and the second major fire started northeast of Athens in the Penteli and Rafina areas, primarily centered in the coastal village of Mati. As of Sunday, the death toll from these fires rose to 91, making these Greece’s worst fires in over a decade.
These fires, which drove swarms of people to the sea seeking refuge from the flames, are suspected to have been the result of arsonists looking to loot homes abandoned during the fires. Although the fire was likely initially human-caused, the climate and weather in the region provided an environment conducive to exacerbating the flames. The Attica region of Greece typically experiences dry summers and shorter wet periods in the winter; however, this region saw a drier winter this year, leading to drier forests that are more vulnerable to fires. Fires in this region are common during the hot, dry summers, and while the drier than normal winter may have been a factor in how extreme these fires have become, it is likely that high winds played a bigger role.
Dry conditions and hot temperatures can provide an environment likely to burn when a spark is introduced, however, it is strong winds that can cause fires to spread across more area very quickly. Wind gusts reaching record speeds of up to 120 km per hour (around 75 miles per hour) and average wind speeds of 65 km per hour (around 40 miles per hour), were recorded in the Attica region last week when the fires began. Winds provide oxygen to help fuel the fires while also working to push the fires across more land area. Stronger winds can speed up the spread of the fires, making it more difficult for them to be contained.
To learn more about other high-impact weather events occurring across Europe, be sure to click here!
©2018 Meteorologist Stephanie Edwards