The world is so hot, that even the Arctic Circle is burning up. Since the beginning of this summer, wildfires have razed cities in California, Greece, and even Sweden, claiming dozens of lives. And as the world reels back from the damage, experts are raising alarms about climate change.
In the early afternoon on July 23, 2018, a wildfire broke out on Penteli Mountain just 20 kilometers north of Athens. From the time that authorities were notified of the blaze – around 16:30 – it took the fire a mere 40 minutes to reach the village of Mati on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea. People fled to the coast to escape the fire, but dozens couldn’t make it past the steep cliffs and 90 people lost their lives.
As the police evacuated Mati, redirecting traffic elsewhere, officers unknowingly sent drivers to their doom, as the fire had sealed off escape routes. The city only had three visible escape paths at the time of the fire, which is why dozens got trapped, only to die of asphyxiation.
In the bigger scheme of things, the fire in Greece, which is reportedly one of the worst fire-related disasters the country has seen in recent years, is not an isolated incident. While Nikos Toskas, the country’s public order minister, claims that the fires were a case of arson, this summer, wildfires have swept across cities in California, Sweden, Italy, and Latvia, to name a few.
Four days prior to the outbreak of the fire, Greek Civil Protection Chief, Yannis Kapakishad, insisted that the country’s fire-preventative measures were secured.
Wildfires are just one result of climate change, though. This summer has proven to be one of the hottest for Europe in recent years, with temperatures soaring to early- to mid-30°C (85 – 95°F). Stockholm saw temperatures soar as high as 32°C (90°F) this past July, causing as many as 50 wildfires to break out across Sweden. At this time in years past, Stockholm summers stood at an average of 23°C (73°F), which was amongst the warmest temperatures in comparison to other Nordic countries.
Wildfires are not the only side effect of skyrocketing temperatures. Japan, Canada, and Pakistan all experienced a deadly heatwaves earlier this summer, killing dozens of residents.
In 2017, the European Commission proposed establishing ‘rescEU,’ a reserve of civil protection capabilities such as aerial forest fighting planes, special water pumps, urban search and rescue, field hospitals, and emergency medical teams. Following the fire outside Athens, neighboring European nations sent resources and personnel to assist in quelling the infernos that blazed through the night.
While this points to the urgency of ensuring that urban infrastructure is resilient in the face of rising temperatures and risks like wildfires, it also stresses the importance of actively working to reduce carbon emissions to limit global warming to below 2°C.
In the near future, cities need to reconsider how they are built, what urban residents are doing to make cities more prone to heat-related disasters, and how they can adapt resilience measures to reduce the damage.