Passing the Torch: Why the Truce Between Humans and Fire Has Burst Into an Age of Megafires, and What Can Be Done About It
The Olympics traditionally open with a fire ceremony. A torch kindled by natural sources (the sun reflects off a mirror onto the torch), and hence a pure fire, is passed from Olympia, the site of the ancient games, to wherever the modern games are to take place. Last year, nature seemed determined to return the gesture, as record-shattering blazes swept over Greece and even reached the ruins of Olympia itself.
These megafires came in three waves, each more savage than the last. The first outbreak commenced in late June and continued into July and most spectacularly burned two-thirds of Mount Parnis National Park, north of Athens. The second struck at the end of July with widespread points of ignition that overwhelmed the fire services and contributed the largest single fire in Greek history, a 74,100-acre burn near Aigialia in the northern Peloponnese. The third wave surged over the Peloponnese during the end of August; one, at Ilia, broke the new size record by reaching 99,000 acres, while another burned off the forest around Olympia. Altogether some 76 people died. The flames shook the political establishment and influenced a national election.
It is tempting to conclude that this outbreak, amid record temperatures and aridity, is another signature of global warming, that these are the sparks of a coming apocalypse. After all, similar types of fires forced evacuations in the American West, ripped through Portugal, invaded Brazil, and smothered Moscow in smoke. No valence other than global climate could possibly bond such disparate landscapes. So this, it would seem, is what the future holds: a rising sea of fire punctuated by ever more frequent tsunamis of flame.