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FLASH ALERT: SEVERE WILDFIRES IN GREECE

Team: Iason Lavdas, Weapons/Tactics (W/T) Team; Jade Patel, Alyssa Schmidt, Emergency Management, Health, and Hazards (EMH2) Team

Week of: Monday, August 9, 2021


Wildfires, Greece[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT for the most severe wildfires in Greece over the past three decades. With reported temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius (113 F), over 140,000 acres in the Attica region and over 350,000 acres in the Evia region are currently engulfed in flames, with a high likelihood of additional fire spread over the next 24 hours. There are also ongoing wildfires in the Peloponnese region, threatening numerous villages in southern Greece. Entire cities and villages have been forced to evacuate, causing thousands of people to resettle in hotels and temporary accommodation while emergency services work to extinguish the flames. Firefighters from across Europe have been deployed and are still struggling to control the fire due to the speed of spread, and heat. Destruction of territory and the displacement of thousands of residents have prompted investigations to assess the cause of the fires and the possibility of criminal activity and mass arson.


CTG is on HIGH alert from ongoing and further wildfires within Greece and surrounding areas that have the potential to leave thousands of people displaced and may result in mass destruction of critical infrastructure. As firefighters from around Europe assist with controlling the fires, it is likely that the mass damage has already been done and Greece could remain vulnerable to a series of threats until the recovery phase is achieved and completed. With emergency management limited, and investigations into acts of arson pending, CTG will continue to monitor the developing situation to detect and deter all current and future threats to reduce and mitigate further incidents.


On Wednesday, August 4, 2021, the first massive wildfire erupted in the Varibobi area, Attica, Greece. As the fire was spreading, other smaller fires started in northern Attica. The fire from Varibobi moved fast and was able to spread beyond the national highway, reaching the Adames area. Many towns such as Krioneri and Agios Stefanos have been in danger and the residents have been evacuated. Later on August 4, 2021, wildfires started on the island of Evia, posing a serious threat to several communities in the northern part of the island. The wildfires that have followed started in Messinia, Ilia, and the Ancient Olympia, all located in the Peloponnese region. The wildfires that are still burning are in the north of Athens, Evia, and the Peloponnese region, specifically in Mani, Messinia, and Ancient Olympia.


Evia is currently experiencing the worst of the fires, with surrounding areas being affected as the fires continue to spread. At the time of this report, over 350,000 thousand acres in the northern part of Evia have been destroyed by the wildfires. With multiple areas in a state of emergency, it is highly likely that the need for rescue teams and firefighters will continue to increase, and emergency forces will likely be forced to share available resources. With limited resources, this is likely to impact emergency management and could result in the fires spreading further. In efforts to increase available resources, firefighters from Cyprus, France, Croatia, Sweden, Romania, Spain, Czechia, Germany, Poland, Slovenia, and Austria have been deployed to provide additional assistance.[2] Additionally, many countries outside of the EU also sent help to Greece. Specifically, the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Ukraine, Egypt, Israel, Qatar, Moldova, Serbia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates have also deployed firefighters, vehicles, planes, and other equipment to support Greece. Even with international assistance, the damage already done by the fires is likely to cause mass disruptions to lifeforms and will have long-term economic and environmental repercussions.



Emergency Management

More than sixty-three organized mass evacuations have taken place at the time of this report and more are ongoing, resulting in thousands of people using boats as means to escape the fire, with more likely as the fires in Evia continue spreading. With three fatalities recorded, rescue efforts are proving effective but are likely to become stretched if the fires are not controlled due to increasing demand from those seeking safety. As some people head for safety, a small minority of people are ignoring requests to evacuate in an attempt to help firefighters extinguish flames. Being inexperienced and without protective equipment puts the citizens in danger of short-term and long-term injuries and health conditions, and can cause distractions to qualified firefighters as they have the additional responsibility of keeping those helping safe. With more wildfires likely, this will likely mean looking for a more permanent preventive or relocating citizens to a safer place long term. Until the fires are controlled, recovery efforts are likely to be delayed, increasing the total of people that are now internally displaced. With the extent of the damage, recovery is likely to be challenging and could cause lengthy delays in restoring the islands.


Alongside this crisis, Turkey is also experiencing extreme wildfires that are impacting thousands. It is extremely likely that these countries will need additional aid to handle both of these hazards. The increased focus on this situation may leave these countries or Europe as a whole vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Additionally, individuals that believe that the government is not giving enough assistance are likely to be more susceptible to radicalization as these extreme groups may offer support to alleviate their stress. It is imperative that the impacted countries are monitored to protect them from manipulation from these groups.


Health and Welfare

High levels of ash and smoke are being produced by the wildfires, forming clouds in the atmosphere and increasing the risk of smoke inhalation. Authorities have set up helplines for people who are experiencing breathing difficulties, likely to provide faster and more efficient service to those impacted. A designated helpline will also help with reducing immediate pressures on the health service. Debris resting in the atmosphere could also cause respiratory issues and is likely to lead to short-term and long-term health issues, such as Asthma, and other respiratory diseases. People who breathe in high amounts of toxic smoke could also require long-term medication. As these individuals will likely be dealing with repairs and other monetary hardships at this time, it is also highly likely that these medical problems and the necessary medication may be costly which will impact their finances. In order to cope with the economic instability, the affected people will likely need to seek aid from the government to assist with their financial burden.

Many people have lost their homes and communities and have been placed in temporary, likely crowded accommodation. Mass evacuations and the use of emergency shelter are highly likely to act as a superspreader event for COVID-19, most likely causing an increase of positive cases. Additionally, respiratory distress can cause coughing and sneezing, which could increase transmission rates. Vaccination distribution is also likely to be paused given the severity of the fires, their impact on the health system, and their impact on emergency services, which is likely to increase the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in the near future. High winds could also increase the spread of diseases, and will likely increase the strain on the healthcare system and emergency services through the recovery period.

Disasters such as wildfires are highly likely to lead to mental health problems in conjunction with physical injuries. During this crisis, it is important to ensure that the community has access to the necessary treatment to assist them through this disaster. The stigma around mental illness and the environmental stressors could cause people to avoid seeking help; however, if left without the appropriate treatment, it is likely that this could lead to long-term mental health issues. Those suffering from mental health issues could be likely vulnerable to radicalization because they may believe that these terrorist groups are offering them a form of support and comfort. This could be financially, or offering them a place of safety and basic essentials. Feelings of isolation, or those who experience trauma such as losing homes due to wildfires, are likely to be more susceptible to reaching out to those who offer help and could misperceive this an act of kindness, opposed to terror advantage. It is crucial that trusted aid is given to those who require it to reduce the threat of terror organizations taking advantage of the ongoing crisis.


Animal welfare is also another threat posed by the wildfires and risk species becoming extinct if they are endangered. Animals that have been burned and/or injured are taken to pop-up shelters where they are able to receive veterinary care.[3] Alongside fighting the fires, emergency workers are rescuing high-risk animals from forests and affected lands, likely to reduce the risk of harm and extinction. Issues are likely to arise when relocating the animals back to their homes as these could now be inhabitable.


Organized Criminal Activity and Mass Arson

There are several factors that should be addressed as they indicate the high probability of organized mass arson as the main reason for the massive wildfires that have been occurring in Greece for more than ten days. The wildfires are located in areas with dense pine forestation, in significantly different and distant parts of Greece, creating an extremely difficult situation for the extinguishing of the fires and the protection of the numerous communities lying in the proximity of those forests. The distance between the areas where the wildfires occurred creates a great issue of distributing the available forces of the fire brigade evenly and poses the issue of the prioritization of certain cases. For example, factors such as the wind speed and its direction, the extreme heat, and the limited resources available were some of the main reasons why Evia has suffered the most from the wildfires so far. Additionally, the fires in the Attica region and the proximity to the cities relatively close to the north suburbs of the capital city created the dilemma of prioritizing the distribution of the fire brigade forces to both Evia and Attica. It is highly likely that the locations of the wildfires were calculated to create an extremely unmanageable situation for the fire brigade and the volunteer firefighters.


Arrests have been made of five people who attempted arson in multiple areas with medium to heavy forestation. Nineteen suspects, eight of them arrested during the night, are also under investigation for either posing as volunteer firefighters or for displaying suspicious behavior.[4] Although no official information has been released about whether the arrested persons acted according to a plan, it is highly likely that they did not act on their own but rather as part of organized and coordinated criminal activity. It is probable that many wildfires occurred in critical locations in Greece due to negligent actions of local farmers or citizens. Finally, the official intervention of the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court and the launch of an immediate investigation regarding the suspicions of organized criminal activity as the main reason causing the wildfires, significantly increases the probability of the existence of an organized plan of mass arson.


Damaged Infrastructure

The wildfires have caused the destruction of historical landmarks and important infrastructure, with destruction likely to continue as the fires spread. Damage to critical infrastructure is likely to create a series of threats regarding dealing with and preventing future incidents. If communication infrastructures are damaged by the fires, it is likely to reduce a trusted and secure channel, and could increase the threat of miscommunication. Without a reliable communication channel this could hinder resource and personnel deployment and quantity, resulting in the decreased success of controlling and responding to the fires. Major critical infrastructure such as cell towers and signal stations, if damaged, are likely to be vulnerable to cyber and physical terror attacks, which would likely prolong the recovery period.


As the fires continue throughout the country, there will likely be time delays that could leave certain areas without the proper resources until they start the recovery efforts. This could leave the countries vulnerable to future hazards and other threats such as terrorist attacks as they will have to focus their resources on repairing the northern part of the island. Humanitarian aid will likely have to assist in ensuring that all of the citizens impacted by this incident have the necessary resources while the hazard is still occurring and during the recovery period. Safe housing will need to be acquired for the people that were displaced due to the destruction. This situation has been taking place over the course of two weeks; therefore, there will be damage throughout the entire country that needs to be repaired and accessed to appropriately finance the reparation.


Another infrastructure that is at risk from the wildfires is historical sites that have been severely damaged and in some cases destroyed. Spanning back thousands of years, this type of infrastructure is irreplaceable and is likely to cause devastation to the preservation of the country's history and have an impact on future tourism and revenue.


Future Wildfires

The increase in global wildfires is most likely a consequence of the extreme weather caused by human-induced climate change.[5] As climate change continues to accelerate, it is predicted that the atmosphere will suffer a permanent increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius[6], which is enough to likely increase the opportunity of adverse weather, leading to hazardous phenomena such as heat waves fueling wildfires, droughts, and flooding. With the unfolding wildfires spread across the globe, it is extremely likely that this is already occurring and is extremely likely to increase the frequency and severity of future disasters. More fires are expected within Greece and as a result, Athens and Crete have been placed on high alert. With all resources and personnel deployed to fight the current fires, it is highly likely that resources will become dangerously limited, resulting in lives lost and severe economic damage.


CTG recommends that the situation in Greece is monitored to assess the damage and management of the crisis. Citizens that are impacted by the wildfires should comply with recommendations for evacuation to ensure safety. Those evacuating to shelters should remain vigilant about adhering to COVID-19 precautions to limit the spread of the virus. The Delta variant has been seen to be highly transmissible so it is extremely important that protocols are followed. Residents should report suspicious activity surrounding the fires to ensure that they are maintained and any crimes that are taking place are appropriately handled. For more detailed information, such as a Threat Assessment report, or more tailored reports to specific threats, contact us at info@counterterrorismgroup.com.


CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH and that as the wildfires continue, more evacuations are likely over the coming days. As firefighters from around Europe respond to help control the fires, more damage is expected, adding to the challenges of recovery. As Greece remains in a state of emergency, the country is vulnerable to terror advantage and could give opportunities for an increase in crime, radicalization, and attacks. CTG is monitoring the developing situation to detect, deter and defeat current and future threats linked to the wildfires. The Emergency Management, Health and Hazards Team and Weapons and Tactics will also closely monitor the ongoing situation as emergency management continues and the wildfires continue to spread, specifically as the investigation into arson continues.


Analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that the fires in Greece will continue to spread and cause great harm to the environment, citizens, infrastructure, and animals. As the fires continue to spread, this will require more firefighting teams and resources which are already stretched due to multiple wildfires currently happening throughout Europe. With restricted equipment and personnel, more damage is highly likely and increases the risk of future fatalities and an influx of burn victims. With whole islands being evacuated, medical facilities are likely to become overwhelmed by people helped from smoke inhalation and injuries sustained from the fires, adding to the prevailing crisis. It is likely that Greece will become vulnerable to future hazardous incidents such as more fires, along with terror advantage. Until the recovery phase can be initiated, Greece remains a target for terror organizations and organized criminal entities as they may seek to exploit the unavailability of the fire brigade or the police which both assist in the evacuation processes while the fires still exist.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is a unit of the global risk consulting and security firm Paladin 7. CTG proactively searches for and analyzes the threat of terrorism that comes from International Terrorist Organizations, Domestic Terrorist Organizations, and Individuals determined to inflict terror upon societies, organizations, and individuals. Our international and national security professionals set up protective measures to detect, deter, and prevent, discourage, and dissuade any terrorist organization or individual from attacking organizations and individuals. We work to protect our clients from any terrorist threat or attack. We also work proactively with the proper authorities to find those in terrorist organizations and individuals who will cause harm and assist in bringing them to justice and mitigating the threat long-term.

[1] 21-08-07 09 Wildfires Devastate Greece” by Felton Davis licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Greece wildfires: Hundreds more evacuated as uncontrolled fires rage, BBC News, August 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-58138614

[3] Residents say ‘nothing left’ after wildfires engulf Greece’s Evia island, France 24, August 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20210808-residents-say-nothing-left-after-wildfires-engulf-greece-s-evia-island

[4] Φωτιά: Πέντε συλλήψεις για απόπειρες εμπρησμού, Ethnos.gr, August 2021, https://www.ethnos.gr/ellada/169544_fotia-pente-syllipseis-gia-apopeires-emprismoy (translated by Iason Lavdas)

[5] Greece wildfires: Hundreds more evacuated as uncontrolled fires rage, BBC News, August 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-58138614

[6] Greek wildfires are the 'harsh reality of climate change,' experts warn, NBC News, August 2021, ​​https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/greek-wildfires-are-harsh-reality-climate-change-experts-warn-n1276311

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