Forest fires Greece
Trends in the past
During the period 1961–1997 there was a statistically significant increasing trend and a positive correlation between the number of fires and area burned and the annual drought episodes in Greece (7,22). Summer drought episodes did not show any particular trend for the same period. The average number of fires and area burned were significantly higher in Greece during the sub-period 1978–1997, when Greece entered a prolonged period of drought, compared to the previous sub-period 1961–1977 (7). From a statistical analysis of fire occurrence in Greece during 1900–2010 it was concluded that total area burned at the national scale is controlled by precipitation totals rather than air temperature (12). A study on the Mediterranean region on fire trends in Portugal, Spain, southern France, Italy, and Greece in the period 1985-2011 revealed a general decreasing trend of the total annual burned area in all countries, with the exception of Portugal (24).
The summer of 2007 was characterized by uncontrolled wildfires in Greece. During the 2007 summer, the country was hit by three consecutive heat waves (46°C) which, along with the strong winds and the low relative humidity (9%), resulted in forest fires breaking out. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), Greece has experienced more wildfire activity during the summer of 2007 than other European countries have over the last decade (13). In total, over 8,933 fires have been recorded in the country following the third heat wave the country had experienced in that period (14). The mountainous southern peninsula of Peloponnesus was the worst affected region: 1,477 fires broke out in the Peloponnese region, burning 10,196 km2 of land, 6,633 km2 of which were protected forests and natural areas (14). The estimation for the cost of the damages for the 500,000 people affected was close to 3 billion euros according to European sources (15), while other moderate estimations have found it to be close to 2.2 billion US dollars (16). During the 2007 summer period, 68 people were killed, while another 2,094 people were injured (17). More than 100 villages and settlements were damaged; the burned forest and agricultural land constitutes about 2 % (190,836 ha) of the total area of Greece (9,11). The large burnt areas of 2007 fires season in Peloponnese Peninsula appear to be more sensitive to fuel availability and vegetation density than to vegetation dryness (23).
Over the last 150 years, 2 out of 4 years with greatest increase in burnt area occurred in 1998 and 2007 (19) when both above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation coincided during the mid- to late fire season. These fires most likely have had more surface burning fuel to propagate compared with those in previous decades because of rural depopulation in northern mountains of the Mediterranean, thus resulting in (1) reduced harvesting of biomass and (2) longer periods of fire exclusion (during which burning fuel accumulated) because of lower human activity (18).
Fire danger is expected to progressively increase in the future especially in the high-end climate change scenario (RCP8.5) with southern and eastern regions of Greece expected to have up to 40 additional days of high fire danger by the end of the century relative to the late 20th century, on average (25).
Forest fire danger, length of the fire season, and fire frequency and severity are very likely to increase in the Mediterranean (1), and will lead to increased dominance of shrubs over trees (2).
Dry weather and damaged ecosystem with accumulation of dead biomass increase the risk of forest fires and therefore increased climate variability will augment the risk of forest fires (3). In addition, forest fires are expected to encourage the spread of invasive species which in turn, have been shown to fuel more frequent and more intense forest fires (4).
Mediterranean mountainous areas may face a very large threat from wildfires in the twenty-first century, if socioeconomic changes leading to land abandonment and thus burning fuel accumulation are combined with the drought intensification projected for the region under global warming (18). In the Mediterranean, the area burned by wildfire can be expected to increase by a factor of 3–5 at the end of the twenty-first century compared with the present as a result of a dryer summer climate (A2 IPCC emission scenario), with Greece appearing as a typical example of such regions (20).
An indication of the forest fire risk under the future climate scenarios has been calculated (4). Under both A2 and B2 scenarios, fire risk is shown to increase nearly everywhere in the Mediterranean region, especially in inland locations. The southern Mediterranean is at risk of forest fire all year round. In the Iberian Peninsula, northern Italy and over the Balkans, the period of extreme fire risk lengthens substantially. The only region that shows little change in fire risk is in the southeastern Mediterranean.
Projections of forest fire risk in 2030-2060 compared with 1961-1990 suggest that (4):
- The increase is higher during the summer, with maximum increase in August in the North Mediterranean inland;
- Balkans, Maghreb, North Adriatic, Central Spain, and Turkey are the most affected regions;
- The south of France is as strongly affected as Spain, but only in August and September;
- The islands of Crete, Sardinia, Sicily (southernmost Italy too), Peloponnese, and Cyprus see no increase or decrease. Cyprus may even see a small decrease every month;
- There will be 2 to 6 additional weeks of fire risk everywhere, except for the south of Italy and Cyprus. The maximum increase is again inland (Spain, Maghreb, Balkans, North Italy, and Central Turkey), where at least an additional month with risk of fire is expected. A significant proportion of this increase in fire risk is actually extreme fire risk;
- The south of France, Crete, and the coastal area of the rest of Mediterranean Region also show a significant increase in the number of days with fire risk (1-4 weeks), but not in the number of extreme fire risk.
Contrary to the pattern expected in boreal and temperate forests, both the frequency and intensity of fires in subtropical forests will eventually decrease after an initial phase of increase once rainfall has decreased so much that less grass fuel is available to support fires (6).
Major funding has also been put into increasing the capacity to combat forest fires in Europe. For example, Italy has Europe’s largest fleet of aircraft and helicopters, and has on several occasions loaned out its planes to France and Spain. The high level of preparedness requires significant resources, but has shown good results: the year 2000 saw 6,600 fires destroy 58,000 hectares of forest, while almost the same number of fires in 2006 only destroyed 16,000 hectares. Protezione Civile considers itself to have a successful organisation with a high level of preparedness and great capacity to handle the effects of climate change (5).
Thinning and pruning may significantly reduce the risk of developing active and passive crown fires, giving the opportunity for successful countering of a possible fire from ground and air forces, since the fireline intensity of the front is significantly reduced, as a result of the fire’s confinement to the surface. Pruning includes the cutting, removal or fragmentation and dispersion of the lower parts of the tree crown, especially the dead ones. After pruning treatments, due to the removal of the lower sections of a dried crown, the maximum possible distance of the lower parts of the crown from the ground that may convey the fire into the entire foliage has increased (8). In addition, the progressive enrichment with broadleaf species might increase the moisture content in these positions and further reduce the risk of a forest fire spreading (8). Controlled or prescribed burning as a means to reduce surface fuel is not allowed under Greek legislation (9).
Developing fire risk assessment tools that enable long-term fire danger prognosis (21) and battling the accumulation of burning fuel should be a top priority to reduce fire spread, especially if rural depopulation further continues in northern mountains of the Mediterranean (18).
The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Greece.
- Santos et al. (2002); Pausas (2004); Moreno (2005); Pereira et al. (2005); Moriondo et al. (2006), all in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
- Mouillot et al. (2002), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
- Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy (2007)
- Giannakopoulos et al. (2005)
- Swedish Commission on Climate and Vulnerability (2007)
- Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
- Dimitrakopoulos et al. (2011)
- Zagas et al. (2013)
- Xanthopoulos et al. (2006), in: Zagas et al. (2013)
- Boschetti et al. (2008), in: Zagas et al. (2013)
- Koutsias et al. (2012), in: Xystrakis et al. (2014)
- Xystrakis et al. (2014)
- ESA (2007), in: Mitsakis et al. (2014)
- EFFIS (2007), in: Mitsakis et al. (2014)
- Davidson (2007), in: Mitsakis et al. (2014)
- USAID (2007), in: Mitsakis et al. (2014)
- Statheropoulos (2008), in: Mitsakis et al. (2014)
- Sarris et al. (2014)
- Christopoulou et al. (2013), in: Sarris et al. (2014)
- Dury et al. (2011), in: Sarris et al. (2014)
- Sarris and Koutsias (2014), in: Sarris et al. (2014)
- Camia and Amatulli (2009); Hoinka et al. (2009); Costa et al. (2011); Koutsias et al. (2012), all in: IPCC (2014)
- Gouveia et al. (2016)
- Turco et al. (2016), in: Silva et al. (2019)
- Rovithakis et al. (2022)