Greek wildfires: Dry winter and strong winds led to tinderbox conditions
By Fiona Harvey
An unusually dry winter, with less than average rainfall interspersed with localised flooding in some areas, is emerging as a major contributing factor to the wildfires that are ravaging the mainland of Greece.
Lack of the expected steady rainfall in the winter months meant groundwater sources failed to recharge and left vegetation unable to recover fully from the high temperatures of the 2017 summer. As a result, when temperatures topping 40C hit some areas during this summer’s heatwave and drought, the conditions were already in place for wildfires to take hold.
Strong winds then fanned the flames and spread the fires widely before stretched fire-fighting teams could gain control. The fact that the fires took hold on land close to densely inhabited and resort areas was largely a matter of chance, but one that led to a death toll of more than 70 people and wrought devastation on homes.
These are widely regarded as the short-term causes of the fires, but experts are also concerned that the conditions experienced in Greece in the last two years are likely to be replicated more often in future, owing to the changing climate.