Terror as deadly wildfire burns Greek resort

Hellish: The mayor of the Rafina-Pikermi area personally saw at least 100 homes in flames.

Can we prevent wildfires? At least 70 people are dead after flames tore through Attica, a popular tourist area in Greece. What can be done to stop a tragedy like this happening again?

“We’re talking about a biblical catastrophe.” These were the stunned words of George Vokas, a resident of the Greek seaside resort of Mati, just hours after it was destroyed by wildfires. At least 70 people have died in blazes across the Attica region, and officials say the death toll is rising by the hour.

Many of those who escaped fled into the sea. Those less fortunate found themselves trapped by walls of smoke and fire.

And it is not restricted to Greece. Soldiers and helicopters from across Europe are in Sweden battling more than 50 forest fires, a dozen of which are inside the Arctic Circle. Sweden is ill-equipped to deal with the dangers of the hot, dry weather parching the northern hemisphere.

Why is this happening? There is currently a weak jet stream which has extended the current heatwave. Sometimes, all that is needed is a spark and a breeze to trigger the kind of devastation seen in Greece.

The World Meterological Organisation says the hot spell is “compatible with the general long-term trend due to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases”.

There is also a human element. Early reports suggest the Greek fires may have been started by arsonists looking to loot abandoned homes.

Can we prevent wildfires?

Playing with fire

We can limit them, argue some. Many wildfires are the result of human error, so we can reduce their frequency through public awareness campaigns that highlight the dangers of dropping cigarettes or burning rubbish. Carrying out controlled fires in danger areas can also limit the risk.

It’s out of our hands, say others. Even if we could influence the human factor, the hot, dry weather that helps wildfires spread will become increasingly common due to rising global temperatures and extreme weather events, which are driven by climate change.

You Decide

  1. Are wildfires the most terrifying kind of natural disaster?

Activities

  1. Research different methods of preventing wildfires. Make a list of which three measures you think are the most effective and why.

Some People Say...

“It is we humans who are fragile and vulnerable and the earth that is hearty and powerful.”

Naomi Klein

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
At least 70 people have been killed, dozens injured, and more than 700 survivors evacuated by sea from the area around Mati, Greece. The small town was largely destroyed by fire on Monday.
What do we not know?
How the fires started. The reports of arson are unconfirmed, and it can be very difficult to work out the cause of wildfires due to the scale of destruction.

Word Watch

The Arctic Circle
This winter, the Arctic experienced a severe heatwave for the third year in a row.
Northern hemisphere
This month, there have been record-breaking temperatures in Canada, Algeria and Japan. In Japan, at least 65 people have been killed by the heat in the past week.
Jet stream
A band of strong winds in the upper levels of the atmosphere that steer weather around the world. When it is weak, weather changes are slower
Long-term trend
Between 1988 and 2015, the frequency of heatwaves lasting for three days or longer has more than doubled.

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