Houses and vegetation destroyed by wildfires in Catania, Sicily on July 25, 2023. Fabrizio Villa / Getty Images
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Wildfires are spreading in nine Mediterranean countries, killing dozens of people and causing thousands to evacuate. Heat waves and dry vegetation have created conditions for the wildfires to spread, and the extreme heat has been made more likely because of climate change, scientists say.
Algeria has experienced the highest death toll of 34 people, as the BBC reported. Temperatures in Algeria have reached around 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius), The Guardian reported, and witnesses to the wildfires described them as being “like a blowtorch.”
Parts of Rhodes, a Greek island, have been evacuated because of the wildfires, with more than 20,000 people fleeing, and others have had to evacuate from Sicily and Puglia in Italy and Melloula in Tunisia.
“I will state the obvious: in the face of what the entire planet is facing, especially the Mediterranean which is a climate change hot-spot, there is no magical defense mechanism, if there was we would have implemented it,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
Two pilots who were working to control flames in Greece using water-dropping planes died when the plane crashed into a hillside, Reuters reported. More than 600 firefighters were tasked with putting out a wildfire near Lisbon, Portugal, and about 130 firefighters were handling a fire near Dubrovnik, Croatia that had caused landmines to explode.
Firefighters in Italy have worked on about 1,400 fires from Sunday to Tuesday, most of which were in Sicily and Calabria. As The Local reported, Renato Schifani, regional president of Sicily, was planning to ask the Italian government to declare an emergency on Wednesday during the ministers’ meeting.
In addition to the fires in the southern part of the country, northern areas of Italy have experienced deadly 70 mph (110 kmh) winds, tornadoes, torrential rain and hail. The storms have killed multiple people, including a 16-year-old girl who was on a summer camping trip.
“We are experiencing in Italy one of the most complicated days in recent decades — rainstorms, tornadoes and giant hail in the north, and scorching heat and devastating fires in the center and south,” Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci said, as reported by the BBC.
The extreme temperatures and dry conditions, as well as the resulting wildfires, have been made more likely by human-caused climate change, said a study from World Weather Attribution.
“Unless the world rapidly stops burning fossil fuels, these events will become even more common and the world will experience heatwaves that are even hotter and longer-lasting,” World Weather Attribution said in a statement.