Historic wildfires in Greece lead to arson arrests

There are multiple wildfires in Greece that have been causing chaos in different areas.

Historic wildfires in Greece lead to arson arrests
View of a partially burned forest following a wildfire, near the village of Avantas in the region of Evros, Greece, August 28, 2023. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The backstory: In July, parts of Europe experienced a long, intense heat wave, and wildfires cropped up in a way that they never really have before, especially in Greece. While it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly how much more likely climate change made this major heat wave, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that "every additional 0.5°C of global warming” causes clear increases in “the intensity and frequency of hot extremes.” And we’re looking at a global increase of 1.1 C since the Industrial Age. This July was actually designated the hottest month in recorded human history, with thousands of temperature records broken on a world scale. The wildfires in Greece really kicked off in mid-July, but they’re still going strong.

More recently: There are multiple wildfires in Greece that have been causing chaos in different areas. One in Greece’s northeast is the largest ever recorded in recorded EU history. The combination of strong winds and hot, dry weather has allowed these fires to burn up over 730 square kilometers. But the chaos is almost unstoppable, with fires killing 21 people in Greece last week alone.

As the fires continue, officials have said that they’ve been doing everything possible with their limited resources, accusing a string of arsonists for triggering and contributing to some of these episodes. Hundreds of firefighters have been battling the flames. But, last week, the Hellenic Fire Service had to fight 517 individual forest fires.

The development: On Thursday, Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias hosted a televised emergency briefing where he called out “arsonist scum” for threatening the lives of people, animals and nature’s ecosystems. Government spokesperson Pavlos Marinakis said that, so far, Greece has made 140 wildfire-related arrests, and 79 of those were related to arson.

There are so many possible arson cases because some people purposely set fires as a way to clear land to illegally build homes. With Greece already dealing with a bad wildfire season at least partly due to climate change, the country is seeing arsonists also add to the problem. To stop the future spread of massive wildfires, some local groups have been privately fundraising for long-range drones with thermal imaging cameras to catch wildfires before they can spread and become out of control.

Key comments:

“We must continue strengthening national & collective prevention and preparedness efforts in view of more brutal fire seasons,” European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic posted on X, formerly Twitter.

"Arsonist scum are setting fires that threaten forests, property and, most of all, human lives," Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said on Thursday. "You will not get away with it, we will find you, you will be held accountable."

“Greece is experiencing the most difficult year in terms of climate conditions since the start of the collection of meteorological data,” said Pavlos Marinakis, a Greek government spokesperson.