A cloud of smoke hangs above the Albanian island of Sazan, where wildfires have been burning for the last three days, with firefighters so far unable to bring them under control.
This is the first major wildfire in Albania of 2022, and follows the summer of 2021, during which wildfires raged for weeks across parts of Albania, as well as its near neighbours Croatia, North Macedonia and Turkey, while Siberia experienced some of the biggest wildfires in recorded history.
The defence ministry said on the evening of June 6 that 14 fires on the island of Sazan have been neutralised, reported Top-Channel. However, other fires on the eastern part of the island remain active.
There are concerns about the fires reaching munitions stored on the island, which was used as a Cold War military base. Until the fire is under control, no tourists or other visitors will be allowed to visit Sazan.
Local media reports from the Albanian city of Vlora, not far from Sazan, say there is a cloud of smoke over the island, and flames are visible.
The causes of the fires are not yet known, but there is speculation they were caused by careless holidaymakers visiting the island.
The fires engulfed centuries-old pine trees, and the island is also home to numerous protected species.
Meanwhile, there were reports on June 6 that other wildfires have broken out in the Mirdita region and other parts of the country.
A defence ministry announcement quoted by Top-Channel TV said: "About 100 other troops of the Armed Forces are being sent to the field, while 3 ships of the Navy have been made available. The troops continue the operation of complete isolation of the flames, the creation of the deforestation zone with additional means by the Support Command,” said the ministry announcement.
Defence Minister Niko Peleshi praised the “sacrifice and professionalism” of the Armed Forces and the entire Civil Defence system in a statement quoted on the prime minister’s Facebook page.
Peleshi also warned of the likelihood of future fires this summer.
“Unfortunately this summer will also be very hot. We will stand with municipalities to support coping with potential emergencies. But we also need volunteerism and commitment from everyone to deal with emergencies together, instead of turning them off even more,” Peleshi added.
Southeast Europe is one of the regions strongly at risk from climate change, with an increasing number of extreme climate events expected.
One study from Zurich-based Crowther Lab projected that cities in Southeast Europe will see some of the sharpest increases in average temperatures of any major urban areas worldwide.
Previously, a 2014 World Bank study identified South-East Europe as one of the world’s “warming hot spots”, forecasting frequent heatwaves if temperatures rise by 4°C by 2100, a 20-50% drop in precipitation and a 20% increase in drought days.
Fires burned for weeks in Albania in summer 2021, with some of the blazes blamed on arsonists, while the situation was exacerbated by the hot, dry weather and strong winds.
The same summer, the republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Russia’s largest and coldest region, was devastated by unprecedented wildfires larger than the rest of the world's blazes combined.