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Photo by EWED
27 May 2024

Greece joins EWED European forest fire project after the 2023 wildfire season in the Wild Land Urban Interface

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In the past decade we have experienced an increase in the frequency and intensity of the Extreme Wildfire Events in Europe and around the world. We have been driven to 6th generation forest fires mainly due to climate change. 

By: Zisoula Ntasiou 

Simultaneous large fires in WUI areas have displayed rapid and extreme behaviours after prolonged heatwaves (2023 in Greece) and cases with no wind at all (2021 in Greece, 2022 in Spain), driven by wind and plume, crown fires, with very high intensity, massive spotting activity in very long distances, creation of fire clouds (pyroCu, pyroCb) and their collapse (Portugal 2017)

This leads to situations of uncertainty for both civilians and emergency responders, who find their ability to respond to these situations diminished. To reduce this uncertainty, it is essential to generate knowledge and create understanding of these phenomena, especially at the level of fire-atmosphere interaction. The key to understanding how these fires develop is to collect data about their correlation with the atmosphere, to record their fire behaviour, their intensity and speed with which they moved over time.
 

Fire season 2023 in Greece was the most difficult fire season ever the last 15 years. Our fire risk indexes during the months of July and August were the worst we ever had.  We really didn’t expect to re-experience another summer like 2021, but 2023 turned out even worse. 

The behaviour of the fires was extreme, we encountered mainly crown fires of Pinus Halepensis, Brutia, Nigra and Quercus forests, mostly wind and plume – driven, with high degree of fire line intensity, rate of spread, flame length, spotting activity, appearance of pyroCumulus, downdrafts and fire tornados. During May and June we had rains that covered almost all the area of Greece. But then July came, giving us the warmest July ever recorded on a global scale, according to the Copernicus Service and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
 

According to the NOA historical climate record, July 2023 was the warmest July (and the warmest month overall) ever recorded, at least in the last 160 years for which records are available, in Athens. In particular, with an average maximum temperature of 37.1 °C, an average 24-hour temperature of 31.3 °C and an average minimum (night) temperature of 27.1 °C, July 2023 ranks first, breaking every previous record since the mid-19th century. 

These values are 2.5-3.0 degrees higher than the normal values of the most recent climate period 1991-2020. However, July 2023 was also distinguished due to the appearance of a 'persistent' heat wave (13-27/7) named 'Kleon', with its main characteristic being its long duration. 

High temperatures also prevailed in the country during 10 days in the second month of August from 19/08/23 to 28/08/23 where the temperature reached and locally exceeded 40 °C.
 

Our fire season started 17th of July. That day we had 44 forest fires open and the biggest ones three of them the same day in the Attica region. All of them inside the Wildland Urban Interface. 

On 18th of July the Rhodes fire started where more than 19.000 of tourists have been evacuated from their hotels. Other forest fires also followed, in Karystos, Aigio, Corfu and Velestino. 

Other smaller fires followed the month July and August until 19 of August when a new fire in Alexandroupolis starts from a lightning due to a no rain storm, early in the morning. 

The second ignition in Dadia-Soufli run on the 21st, which, in a period of approximately 13 hours, travelled 50 km at an average speed close to 4 km/h, is the main factor that explains the final size of the fire. 

In this period, the fire grew by approximately 30.000 ha, and increased the perimeter by more than 130 km. 

The behaviour of the fire was characterized by the convective activity that the smoke column developed, with spotting fires jumping from 200 to 500 meters and pulsations at the head with propagation speed ratios greater than 5-6 km/h. The estimated average flame lengths at the head were over 40 meters with about 90,000 Kw/m of front intensity. 

These fire behaviour values were outside the suppression capacity of any forest fire or emergency service. 

The relevant aspect about this case is that the fire was also capable of maintaining the same fire behaviour during the night, making it impossible to fulfil control maneuvers that fire services can usually carry out with more favourable night conditions. 

This wildfire burned in total according to the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS) 93.881 ha, making this fire the biggest fire in Europe.
 

It’s more than obvious after this never ending summer that there is a necessity to learn more about how these extreme wildfires events are developing and this is the main reason that Hellenic Fire Service decided to be part of an innovating European Project named “EWED” that is being coordinated by the Pau Costa Foundation.

The EWED project (Extreme Wildfire Events Data Hub for Improved Decision Making) will set up a testbed and open platform to advance in research and prepare European emergency response systems for extreme wildfires.
 

For two years, the consortium will gather fire and atmosphere data from extreme wildfire behaviour that has the potential to become extreme events in European countries (Norway, Spain, Greece, Netherlands and others). These data will be used to populate a novel Open Data Portal. 

The complex processes involved will be adjusted based on Large eddy simulation (LES). The results will be used to improve a land-atmosphere coupled model (CLASS) to learn and improve the understanding of the atmosphere-fire feedback during extreme fire events. 

The resulting model and data portal will allow real-time analysis of ongoing extreme fire events with atmosphere coupling.
 

Finally, the results will be used to propose advanced guidelines and training on how to prepare and respond to extreme wildfires in Europe. In addition, the guidelines will provide recommendations on how to implement in different European contexts, including new fire prone countries in Central and Northern Europe that have not yet experienced those types of behaviour, ultimately improving Europe’s preparedness.
 

More information on the EWED website :
https://civil-protection-knowledge-network.europa.eu/projects/ewed
 

“Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the
author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or [name of the
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