Since August 18, over 500 wildfires have broken out across Greece and Turkey. Fueled by gale-force winds, consecutive heatwaves, and extremely dry weather conditions, record-breaking wildfires continue to impact the region, including the largest wildfire on record in the European Union in the Evros region of Greece.
Major wildfires near the Greek cities of Athens and Alexandropoulos have damaged several nearby industrial facilities and forced local evacuations. In Turkey, a wildfire in Canakkale Province led to the suspension of traffic along the Dardanelles Strait. Firefighting efforts have succeeded in containing the major wildfire north of Athens and other blazes across central Greece and western Turkey. However, strong winds have thwarted containment in northeastern Greece, and many regions of the country continue to be at risk for further fire activity throughout the remainder of summer.
Intense wildfire season forces evacuations
Annual summer wildfires are common in Greece and Turkey due to hot, dry seasonal climate conditions. Both countries began experiencing wildfires this summer in July, forcing the evacuation of nearly 20,000 tourists on the Greek island of Rhodes during the week of July 25, and spreading for days in Turkey’s Hatay, Mersin, and Çanakkale provinces during the week of July 10-17.
Authorities have yet to definitively establish the cause of this year’s exceptionally intense fires, but many experts have pointed to climate change as a key driver for the excessive hot, dry, and windy weather conditions that have made this season’s fires so difficult to contain. Greek authorities have also suggested that intentional arson may have initiated or exacerbated many of this year’s fires. In past years, arsonists have been known to intentionally start wildfires to clear land for illegal housing developments.
Wildfire activity disrupts operations north of Athens
Beginning on August 22, wildfire activity began to develop approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the economic hub of Athens. The fire originated in the town of Fyli and spread southward to several major outer suburbs of Athens including Acharnes (also known as Menidi) and Aspropyrgos.
Fires caused the closure of the Athens ring road in Aspropyrgos to facilitate firefighting operations, and smoke and ash development caused further disruptions to ground transportation and logistics across Athens due to limited visibility.
At least seven industrial facilities in Aspropyrgos have been damaged by the fire, including five warehouses and two factories. The affected companies have not been named at the time of reporting, but include a factory containing plastic and aluminum materials, several logistics warehouses containing highly flammable materials, and an unspecified facility containing sheet metal.
The fire continues to burn in local wilderness reserves near Mount Parnitha, but flames have been controlled at the southern edge of the mountain bordering the Athens metro area, where damage assessments and investigations are currently underway.
Infrastructure threatened in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
Greece’s northeastern administrative region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace has seen the most aggressive wildfire activity in recent weeks, where major fires continue to burn in Evros, Rhodope, and Kavala.
The largest of these fires, located in Evros, has burned over 81,000 hectares (200,000 acres) in the past 17 days and has left at least 20 people dead. It is the largest wildfire by area on record in both Greece and the European Union.
The fire first broke out on the outskirts of the city of Alexandropoulos on August 19, and has since forced evacuations and damaged structures in those areas, as well as in the towns of Avantas, Nipsa, Aetochori, Pefka, Loutros, Aristino, and Doriko. Currently, fire activity is concentrated in the Dedia forest near Greece’s border with Turkey.
Additional fires have broken out in Rhodope and Kavala, affecting the cities of Komotini and Kavala, respectively, where localized evacuations have been ordered in nearby villages.
The fire currently poses a significant threat to transportation infrastructure in the region, with government analyses indicating that as much as 1,723 kilometers of roadways and 36.2 kilometers of rail lines are vulnerable to the fires’ impacts
Additional fires continue throughout region
Elsewhere in the region, smaller wildfires have led to further business disruptions. In Turkey, a major fire erupted in the country’s northwestern Canakkale Province on August 22. Although the fire was contained within 48 hours on August 24, the fire burned 1,500 hectares of land and forced the evacuations of 11 villages near the city of Canakkale.
During the fire, all maritime traffic in the Dardanelles Strait was suspended at 18:45 local time on August 22 to allow firefighting aircraft to collect water from the waterway. Over 100 cargo vessels waited to transit the Strait during the closure. Traffic was later partially restored to one lane later during the evening of August 22, and was fully restored on August 24.
Other smaller fires continue to cause damage in areas throughout Greece. Between September 3 and September 4, at least 82 smaller wildfires have broken out that were tackled by firefighters.
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