This summer, Europe has been experiencing unusual weather, to say the least. Extreme heat, drought and unusual fire activity have all been observed. Now comes a weekend of extreme fire, with at least 62 reported dead over the course of the last three days.
Over 170 fires have been burning, overwhelming apparently unprepared fire authorities. Numerous countries, including Australia, are sending aid and volunteers to assist.
This has been one of the hottest and driest summers in recent history, and much of southern Europe has been plagued by forest fires. In Greece, the dry conditions have played a role. But many of the fires, government and forestry experts say, have been set by arsonists, hoping to clear land for development.
Some reports (see FireFighter Blog) have suggested that the fires are an act of terrorism. I acknowledge the possibility, but find this unlikely. I suspect that this is part of that paranoid thinking that always comes out after events like this. It never pans out, the story just always kinds of fades away...Did people start these fires? Most likely. I don't think it was 'terrorists', though. More likely accidental starts or some lonely pyromaniac-type out trying to impress his imaginary girlfriend...
"Most of the reasons concern changing of land use – from forest to something else [such as] construction, or building, or to grazing, or agriculture," explains Nikos Georgiadis, head forest officer for the Greek office of WWF (the World Wildlife Fund). "But the response from the government has not been effective at all."
Greece has one of the worst records in the European Union on environmental issues, and on forest protection in particular. Environmental groups say recycling is in its infancy, development is largely unregulated, and protected areas neglected.
Regardless of arson and/or land use change, the fires are in no small part down to the particular
weather and climate that has been observed over their summer. Without an appropriate climate 'setup', fires of this magnitude could not occur.
2006 was a climatically unusual year. 2007 is turning out to be even more unusual. Still, single events like this do not constitute 'proof' of global warming. Believe that if you will, but the global nature of the extremes this season suggests that things have changed. Even if you choose not to accept that, this year is certainly a good model year to take as the example for what climate change will be like.
Welcome to the future.