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Explained: Wildfires consume an island in Greece; why they are a sign of the times

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Wildfires have continued their serial outbreak throughout the world. As climate change sets in and temperatures rise, the conditions are perfect for these fires. Larger areas will be destroyed and many will lose homes, livelihoods, even lives. The Greek island of Evia is just an example of this. 

Explained: Wildfires consume an island in Greece; why they are a sign of the times
Wildfires continue to blaze across Greece for the second week running. The lingering fires have smothered the once-idyllic islands with a thick blanket of smoke. They have caused untold damage to property and thousands of residents have been evacuated. The Greek wildfires are among many currently raging on across Europe and the rest of the world. Wildfires in the US, Canada, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Finland, Tunisia and Siberia have been grabbing the headlines with disturbing frequency.
What causes wildfires?
Wildfires are often part of the natural ecological cycle in many areas of the world. Intense wildfires create complex early seral forest habitats that have higher species diversity than an unburned old forest.
Wildfires occur when dried vegetation is set aflame, mostly by lightning strikes. Other events may also cause wildfires that may be human-caused or natural.
However, it is a cause for concern when they happen with such a frequency that the ecological system is unable to recover. Similarly, wildfires in areas where they are not common can cause widespread ecological damage. Wildfires near habited areas cause large-scale damage to property, life and resources.
What’s the situation in Greece?
Wildfires are raging in Greece’s numerous islands with alarming intensity. These islands have been habited for millennia and the fires are often in dangerously close proximity to towns, villages and settlements. On the Greek archipelago, fires have spread down the side of mountains and hills to nearby settlements.
Greece’s tough topography also proves a challenge for those trying to stop the fires from fanning out in the first place. Mountainous roads and islands pose logistical challenges to firefighters scrambling to contain the numerous fires spreading across the country.
These fires lead to mass evacuation, and considerable loss of property. They can quickly overwhelm small towns, reducing most of the structures to cinders. The potential loss of life is also heightened when wildfires break out so close to populated areas. The ecological damage is astounding, something that directly impacts the livelihoods of those who depend on the land.
The Greek infernos are a warning to the world of what more frequent wildfires near populated areas could look like as an annual occurrence. The second-largest island in Greece, Evia, is now home to one of the largest wildfires. Local news agencies have reported that the fire has almost entirely consumed the northern part of the island. Countless other fires are raging across the rest of the nation, including several large ones on the outskirts of the capital, Athens.
Climate change and wildfires
Wildfires are expected to increase in both frequency and intensity. Studies have shown that global warming will cause more frequent droughts, as weather patterns are affected. Longer droughts mean longer periods of time when vegetation and plant life is vulnerable to forest fires. Add to this the thunderstorms, another side-effect of rising global temperatures, which means both the fuel and ignition are readily available.
"According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change increases the likelihood of droughts, storms and other weather anomalies. Those events that were once every 100 years are suddenly happening once every 10 years. Based on the IPCC, we are moving towards an increasing frequency of fires, whether that’s forest fires or grassland fires -- and many other dire consequences as well,” said Niklas Hagelberg Coordinator of UN Environment's Sub-programme on Climate Change.
"Severe heat and drought fuel wildfires, conditions scientists have linked to climate change. If we don’t break the warming cycle, we expect more and worse wildfires in the years ahead,” said Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental advocacy non-profit.
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