Greece occupies an area of 130,875 km2 at the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula. Its population is approximately 11 million. Nearly half of these people live in the two largest cities, Athens and Thessaloniki. The country’s topography is mostly mountainous. The tallest mountain, Mt. Olympus is 2917 meters tall. Small plains and valleys lie between the mountains and constitute the main agricultural areas. The mainland is surrounded from the East, the South and the West by the sea which is interspersed with more than 1400 islands. The total coastline is officially 13676 kilometers.
Weather and Climate Variation
The climate is typically Mediterranean over most of the country, with warm-to-hot summers and mild winters. Usually there is little or no rain in the summer, but quite often the dry season may start as early as mid-May and continue well into fall. Only some of the wettest locations at high elevations have more than 100 days of rain per year. Yearly precipitation may exceed 2,000 mm at those locations. On the other hand, the southeastern tip of Greece, including the area around Athens and the Cyclades Islands in the Aegean Sea, has annual precipitation of less than 400 mm, which is one of the lowest in Europe.
Mean yearly temperature varies between 14.5 oC in the north and 19.5 oC on the southernmost island of Crete. Absolute minimum temperatures at high elevations in northern Greece may approach -25 oC. In the summer, maximum temperatures occasionally reach 42-44 oC at various inland locations. The influence of the Mediterranean Sea that surrounds the country on three sides helps moderate the air temperature in most areas.
Forest vegetation reflects the climate and topography of the country. It is very rich and diverse, ranging from few desert-like areas, to typically Mediterranean ecosystems at low to medium elevations, to central-European like forests on the mountains, up to alpine vegetation at the top of the tallest mountains. In many places a road trip of less than an hour is enough to cross all this range of ecosystems.
Wildfires and Wildfire Season
Wildfires constitute a major problem in the country as in all other Mediterranean countries of Europe. The fire season starts from May, peaks in July and August and continues until the end of October. During this period fire use in the open is banned. The yearly number of fires that burn forest lands varies between 2,500 and 3,500. However, if agricultural burns and other fires in the countryside are also counted, the yearly number of fire starts exceeds 8,000-12,000. There is clearly room for improvement in fire prevention. Prevention efforts should focus on the fires starting in the summer under adverse fire weather conditions. Although the number of fires changes relatively little from year to year, the yearly burned area tremendously as a result of the overall weather-influenced difficulty of the fire season.
Information on fires and fire prevention in Greece can be found (in Greek) at:
- The site of the Institute of Mediterranean Forest Ecosystems and Forest Products Technology, Athens, Greece, at www.fria.gr
- The site of the Greek General Secretariat for Civil Protection, at http://www.gscp.gr/ggpp/site/home/ws/promote/fisikes/pirkagies.csp
- The site of the Greek Fire Corps, at http://www.fireservice.gr/pyr/site/home/Various/advices/forest_fire_home_prevantion.csp