Popular tourist destinations including Crete, Sicily and Sardinia are at risk of 'extreme fire weather" in the coming days, experts have warned.
It comes as thousands of people flee the Greek islands of Corfu, Evia and Rhodes, with Greece's prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declaring the country is "at war" with wildfires.
In Sicily, Palermo Airport was forced to close in the early hours of Tuesday morning as flames spread dangerously close to its perimeter, with temperatures on the Italian island soaring to 47C.
Wildfires, which began in Rhodes on Tuesday, 18 July, have been particularly dire, with many exhausted tourists forced to sleep at the airport after frantic evacuations. About 10% of the island's land area has now burned.
Initially they were confined to the hilly terrain further inland, until Saturday, when strong northerly winds drove the fire to the more populated coasts at a fast pace, says Dr Thomas Smith, associate professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics.
Watch: Fire Fighters Battle to Control Wildfires in Turkey
"Aside from Rhodes, parts of southwestern Turkey, Crete, Sicily, and Sardinia all have similar extreme fire weather outlooks for the coming days," he added.
What is 'fire weather'?
Fire conductive weather is a metric combining temperature, relative humidity, rainfall and winds, Dr Smith explains.
All of these factors combined help determine how easily and quickly fire can grow and smoke disperse, according to the US National Weather Service.
“Extreme fire weather means faster moving fires with more intensity - bigger flames," adds Dr Smith. "This increases risk because they become more difficult to fight and there is usually less time for evacuation.
"It’s a testament to the Greek authorities that the evacuation was swift and effective. Greece has been devastated by much more severe fire events in recent years, and they were clearly very well prepared for this fire."
Guillermo Rein, a professor of fire science at Imperial College London describes the combination of heat, wing and people in the Mediterranean as "mortal".
“The intense heat of the summer dries vegetation and makes it very flammable, easier to catch fire. A heat wave or an unusually hot summer leads to even more flammable forests," he adds.
Professor Rein says strong winds "greatly accelerate" this spread, warning of "walls of flames that cannot be stopped by ground crews or slowed down by airtankers".
“Large wildfires might jump over firebreaks because of the intense heat they radiate over dozens of meters, and the flying embers that can carry flames kilometres away," he adds.
“When all goes wrong, when dry vegetation is plentiful, there is wind and previous forest management was poor, then the fire brigades cannot do much."
What's causing these wildfires?
It is not clear exactly what is causing all of the fires raging through southern Europe, although officials in Corfu have suggested the island's wildfires were started by arsonists.
As Professor Rein points out, forest fires are no new phenomenon in the region - but he warns that climate change is "making them larger, faster, and harder to stop" .
He says the Mediterranean is in the midst of its second major heatwave this year, the first of which was found to have been made "100-times more likely" and "at least 2C hotter" due to the impact of climate change.
Watch: Thousands of tourists forced to evacuate as wildfires ravage Greek islands
Dr Douglas Kelley, a land surface modeller at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said that while it's "too early to say" exactly what has caused the wildfires we're seeing in Greece and Italy, climate change is almost certainly a piece of the puzzle.
"The fact there are now so many across the world, most recently in Greece and Canada, is a clear sign that climate change is causing an increase in the number of severe wildfires globally," he says.
He says global warming creates conditions for more intense heatwaves, which dry out vegetation and dead plant material - thus creating tinderbox conditions, particularly with recent high winds.
“While not uncommon in southern Europe, what was unusual about the fires in Rhodes was the intensity and the speed at which they spread."
If humanity carries on in the same trajectory, Dr Kelley predicts a global increase in extreme fires "of up to 50% by the end of the century".
He adds: “There is a feedback loop where fires in ecosystems that store large amounts of carbon, such as forests, result in the release of vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This exacerbates global warming, which in turn increases the risk of wildfires.
"Even if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there are likely to be more wildfire events by 2100 because global temperatures are continuing to rise and are expected to reach 1.5 to 2C higher than pre-industrial times. This means that communities in some regions will need to adapt to increases in burning.’’
A study published by World Weather Attribution - a global team of scientists - said extreme weather events across the world this month would be "extremely rare" without human-induced climate change.
"European and North American temperatures would have been virtually impossible without the effects of climate change," said Izidine Pinto of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, one of the study's authors.
"In China it was around 50 times more likely to happen compared to the past."
'There is no magical defence mechanism'
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned of difficult days ahead as ministers met to discuss a response to wildfires that forced 20,000 people to leave homes and hotels in Rhodes over the weekend.
"I will state the obvious: in the face of what the entire planet is facing, especially the Mediterranean, which is a climate change hotspot, there is no magical defence mechanism, if there was we would have implemented it," he told reporters.
About 20,000 people had to leave homes and hotels in Rhodes over the weekend as the inferno spread and reached coastal resorts on the verdant island's southeast, after charring land, killing animals and damaging buildings, although no people have been killed by the blazes yet.
After a blaze in the seaside town of Mati, east of Athens, in 2018 killed 104 people, Greece has taken a more proactive approach towards evacuations.
But critics say it has not improved its ability to put out fires that are common in summer, though more intense in this year's heatwave.
Hundreds of firefighters, helped by forces from Turkey and Slovakia, battled blazes close to the villages of Gennadi and Vati in the southeast of Rhodes as the wildfires resurged in hot, windy conditions.
Rhodes mayor said on Facebook the island was facing an unprecedented ordeal, writing: "A week of back-to-back battles in an asymmetric war with an unprecedented scope and intensity of fire."