Rhodes Wildfires: Climate Change Stuns Greece
The heatwave in Greece is about to set a record as the longest in the country’s history – if projections are accurate, likely 16 to 17 days (“Greece”). Though similar records are being set all across Europe, Greece is also facing the unique problem of dozens of wildfires – all raging at once (“Greece”). While some Greek officials believe that at least a few of the fires were caused by arsonists, the general consensus is that climate change is the principal culprit, and there is no doubt that it is the abnormal heat and dry conditions that have allowed them to endure for so long (Treisman).
Though the island of Rhodes – a very popular tourist attraction and crowded with tens of thousands of residents and sightseers at this time of year – comprises only a tiny percentage of Greece’s total landmass, several dozen of the hundreds of wildfires are burning there (“Greece”, Sarkar et al.). Roughly 19,000 people have escaped Rhodes in “the largest evacuation from a wildfire in the country”, some walking “for miles in the heat to reach safety”, but thousands of others are still trapped (Treisman). Those who remain have hidden from the flames in schools and underneath makeshift shelters, on private boats and in holiday resorts (“Rhodes”). As time goes on, however, and the fires spread further from the center of the island to the coasts, fewer and fewer safe areas remain (“Rhodes”). So far, due to strong winds, the speed of their expansion has only increased; the area of the flames increased sixfold between July 21 and July 23 (“Fires”).
Remarkably, at last report, only nine people on the island have been hospitalized with minor respiratory complications – but two have been killed fighting the fires on mainland Greece (Sarkar et al.).
The magnitude of the disaster can be appreciated only when one takes into account all that has been done to address it. Greek firefighters are currently being aided by helicopters, planes, and air tractors from Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, and Israel, as well as both equipment and troops from France, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Malta (Treisman). Still, the wildfires could not be contained within Greece: They now blaze in Portugal, Turkey, France, Italy, Croatia, Spain, Algeria, and Tunisia (Sarkar et al.).
The disaster in Europe demonstrates how climate change does not only impact lesser-developed countries without the resources to combat it, but everyone – people of all walks of life, including the likely upper-class tourists throughout Greece trapped by the fires. Citizens the world around can hope that the scope of the destruction might finally draw more intense focus on the diverse and devastating impacts of the environmental crisis.
“Fires Ignite on Greek Islands.” NASA, 25 July 2023, earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/151628/fires-ignite-on-greek-islands.
“Greece Faces Longest Heat Wave on Record – DW – 07/22/2023.” Dw.Com, 22 July 2023, www.dw.com/en/greece-faces-longest-heat-wave-on-record/a-66316930.
“Rhodes Wildfire Forces Thousands to Flee.” ESA, 24 July 2023, www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2023/07/Rhodes_wildfire_forces_thousands_to_flee.
Sarkar, Alisha Rahaman, and Martha McHardy. “Greece: New Fires Erupt on Mainland as Several Areas at ‘extreme Risk’ – Live.” The Independent, 27 July 2023, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/fire-in-greece-europe-rhodes-wildfires-latest-b2382669.html.
Treisman, Rachel. “Wildfires in Greece Prompt Massive Evacuations, Leaving Tourists in Limbo.” NPR, 24 July 2023, www.npr.org/2023/07/24/1189744875/greece-wildfires-evacuation-tourists.
Varaklas, Michael, and Derek Gatopoulos. “New Evacuations Ordered in Greece as High Winds and Heat Fuel Wildfires.” AP News, 24 July 2023, apnews.com/article/greece-wildfires-evacuation-tourists-rhodes-75f2058b3a4d6bf78ef2ddd583625f81.