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8 major cities that are threatened by wildfires right now

From Athens to Cape Town and Antalya to San Diego, rising temperatures are making these major cities around the world more vulnerable to wildfires

Written by
Ed Cunningham
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In many ways, wildfires are very natural and predictable. Many areas of the world experience seasons that are particularly hot, dry and vulnerable to fire simply because that’s how things have always been.

While fireworks, arson, cigarette butts and even baby showers can cause wildfires, they aren’t always directly brought about by humans. Thunderstorms can spark them too, and climate change is increasingly to blame for that (though, ultimately, that means humans are at fault, too).

Rising temperatures has made wildfires more frequent and more severe. It is making parts of the world both hotter and drier, increasing the risk of a natural fire becoming a catastrophic event.

Sadly, and yet unsurprisingly, there have already been plenty of record-breaking wildfires in 2021. And they’re far from just a rural problem: from Turkey to AustraliaCalifornia to Greece, fires are growing in size and urban settlements around the world are now at risk. Here are eight of the cities most threatened by wildfires.

Cities most threatened by wildfires right now

Athens, Greece
Photograph: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock.com

Athens, Greece

Following a bout of arid weather (during which temperatures reached an astonishing 47C), more than 500 fires broke out across Greece in August. Athens’s iconic landscape became infernal nightmare: thousands in the city were told to leave their homes as the skies filled with smoke and suburbs north of the city were consumed by flames. Meteorologists predict that the mean temperature in the city could rise by up to two degrees over the next 30 years – so Athens’s wildfire problems may only get worse.

San Diego, USA
Photograph: Shutterstock

San Diego, USA

Some 2.7 million Californians live in what the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection deems ‘very high fire hazard severity zones’. A lot of those people live in rural areas – mountain towns in the Sierra Nevada are particularly at risk – but cities are threatened too. San Diego has seen particularly close shaves in recent years, and according to the city’s own fire-risk map (which can be viewed here), significant swathes of the county are in ‘very high’ risk zones. Los Angeles faces a similarly high level of threat.

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Tunis, Tunisia
Photograph: Shutterstock

Tunis, Tunisia

Tunis sits close to some of the Mediterranean’s finest, greenest forests, but the region is also prone to long spells of dryness. In 2017, there was a major fire not that far away from Tunis, which shows just how potentially damaging a more severe blaze could be. This year wildfires also hit neighbouring Algeria, engulfing the Kabyle region around 100 kilometres east of capital Algiers.

Antalya, Turkey
Photograph: Sedat Elbasan / Shutterstock.com

Antalya, Turkey

This summer’s wildfires on Turkey’s southern coast were the worst the country has ever seen. Triggered by the same heatwave that caused such devastation in Greece, the Turkish Riviera saw more than 200 wildfires burn up an area covering 1,700 square kilometres. The fires came so close to Antalya – the country’s largest city on the Mediterranean – that they were even visible from the area’s famed beaches.

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Canberra, Australia
Photograph: Daniel Charron / Shutterstock.com

Canberra, Australia

Australia’s 2020 bushfire season was declared one of the ‘worst wildlife disasters in modern history’, burning an estimated 186,000 square kilometres of land and affecting three billion land-dwelling animals. While cities like Sydney and Adelaide are somewhat at risk, most vulnerable is Canberra. In 2003 bushfires spread through on the city’s suburbs, and in January 2020 this BBC map put areas of the Australian capital well within the range of potential fire spread.

Yakutsk, Russia
Photograph: Tatiana Gasich / Shutterstock.com

Yakutsk, Russia

At one point earlier this year, wildfires in Siberia – caused by an unprecedented heatwave – covered more than all the rest of the world’s blazes combined. While Yakutsk, the capital of Russia’s Sakha Republic, isn’t necessarily at risk of catching fire itself, it’s certainly experienced the horrific consequences of huge wildfires. In July the city’s 320,000 residents were warned to stay indoors to avoid the pungent fumes from nearby blazes, which contained highly toxic levels of pollutants.

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Jerusalem
Photograph: Yossef Zilberman / Shutterstock.com

Jerusalem

During the lengthy heatwave that hit the Mediterranean last summer, the wooded hills surrounding Jerusalem also caught fire, forcing the evacuation of 10,000 residents from nearby villages. The fire burned through 20 square kilometres in just three days before being brought under control, sending columns of black smoke over the city and causing pollution levels to skyrocket. A dry winter followed by a hot, dry and windy summer created the perfect conditions for a wildfire, and further droughts and heatwaves brought on by climate change are only likely to make Jerusalem more exposed.  

Cape Town, South Africa
Photograph: Anna K Mueller / Shutterstock.com

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town and its surrounding areas have suffered five major fires over the past 20 years. While some of those have been sparked by human errors or arson, blazes in the South African city have proven quick to take hold and difficult to extinguish. The most recent fire in April 2021 caused significant damage to both Table Mountain National Park and the surrounding neighbourhoods of Newlands, Rosebank, Mowbray and Rondebosch, as well as the Rhodes Memorial and University of Cape Town. Droughts are getting more severe across the region – so it’s likely that wildfires will become more frequent too.

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