Greece will send €500 million to help residents of the Attica region and the island of Evia (Euboea), who lost their homes and property during large-scale fires this week.
In a televised address on July 8, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced additional funds to money from the EU Reconstruction Fund, which will go directly to reforestation in the affected regions.
He also noted that €1.8 billion from the expected EU funds will be used for civil protection, and especially for prevention. According to him, the program will be controlled directly by his office.
The Prime Minister noted that Greece faces an unprecedented natural disaster, 586 forest fires broke out in a week, and difficulties with their elimination. He said damage registration had already begun, and the government would set up a new platform to allow those who lost property to seek help directly from the bureaucracy without hindrance.
Mitsotakis also said he “apologizes for any weaknesses that may have arisen” in fighting the fires and assured that the mistakes would be analyzed and the perpetrators brought to justice.
Referring to repeated appeals from Evia villagers for help, he said he understood the anger of “those who seek help from the air, not knowing if a fire plane was operating elsewhere or if local conditions were” prohibitive “for flights.”
Summing up, Mitsotakis said that as prime minister, he had faced several crises in the first 25 months of his government – including high tensions with Turkey at the border and in the Eastern Mediterranean, a coronavirus pandemic, and a vaccination program that did not seem to work. at the time. “But we have overcome everything with perseverance and unity, and it will happen now,” he said.
Thousands of people evacuated in Greece
More than 2,000 people have been evacuated from the Greek island of Euboea – a popular resort and second largest island after Crete – where firefighters spent several days trying to cope with the devastating fire. In Greece, forest fires continue to rage, a wave of which this summer swept southern Europe and reached enormous proportions in Yakutia in eastern Russia.
Tourists and residents of the island of Euboea, located northeast of the capital Athens, were taken to the mainland on weekends on ferries against the backdrop of the flaming coastline. Houses on the island burned down and power lines were damaged. Several dozen forest fires are now blazing across Greece, but the most powerful of them fell on Euboea.
Hundreds of firefighters, military personnel, as well as 17 aircraft and helicopters took part in the operation to extinguish them over the weekend.
“We now have two fronts of fire, one in the north, one in the south [of the country],” said Nikos Hardalios, Greek Deputy Minister for the Protection of Civilians. “There is another difficult evening and another difficult night ahead.”
He added that in Athens, where the lives of people were also in danger the other day, the situation has improved, but there are fears that the fire will resume due to the gathering strength of dry winds.
Earlier this week, the fire came close to Athens: a veil of acrid smoke covered the streets, several dozen houses burned down, and eyewitnesses compared what was happening with the apocalypse. On Friday night, the authorities carried out a mass evacuation of residents of the northern suburbs of the capital.
More than a week of 40° C heat
The current natural disaster in Greece resulted from a heat wave above 40° C, which lasted more than a week. In some parts of the country, the temperature reached 47 degrees. Now the thermometer has already dropped below 40, but such an abnormal period of high temperatures in the country has not been observed for about 30 years.
According to the European Forest Fire Information System, during these days in Greece, fires covered 56 thousand hectares.
Wildfires rampage in Greek forests, cut the large island in half
Three large wildfires churned across Greece on Saturday, with one threatening whole towns and cutting a line across Evia, the country’s second-largest island, isolating its northern part. Others engulfed forested mountainsides and skirted ancient sites, leaving behind a trail of destruction that one official described as “a biblical catastrophe,” BNA reports.
A flotilla of 10 ships – two Coast Guard patrols, two ferries, two passenger ships, and four fishing boats – waited at the seaside resort of Pefki, near the northern tip of Evia, ready to evacuate more residents and tourists if needed, a Coast Guard spokeswoman told The Associated Press, on customary condition of anonymity, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
Firefighters were fighting through the night to save Istiaia, a town of 7,000 in northern Evia, as well as several villages, using bulldozers to open up clear paths in the thick forest.
The fire on Evia forced the hasty Friday night evacuation of about 1,400 people from a seaside village and island beaches by a motley assortment of boats after the approaching flames cut off other means of escape.
The other dangerous fires were in Greece’s southern Peloponnese peninsula, near Ancient Olympia, and in Fokida, in the Central Greece Region, north of Athens. The fire in Ancient Olympia moved east, away from the ancient site, threatening villages in a sudden flare-up Saturday afternoon.
North of Athens, the fire on Mount Parnitha, a national park with substantial forests, was still burning with occasional flare-ups, but a Fire Service spokesman told the AP late Saturday that containment efforts were “going well.” Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias told reporters Saturday night that firefighters hoped to contain the fire Sunday.
Smoke from that fire was still spreading across the Athens basin. Earlier, the blaze had sent choking smoke across the Greek capital, where authorities set up a hotline for residents with breathing problems.
One volunteer firefighter died Friday and at least 20 people have been treated in hospitals over the last week during Greece’s most intense heatwave in three decades. Temperatures soared up to 45 degrees Celsius.
On Saturday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited the fire department’s headquarters in Athens and expressed his “deep sadness” for the firefighter’s death. He later visited the airport, west of Athens, from which firefighting planes took off, and thanked the pilots, Greek and French, who arrived to support the firefighting effort.
Securing aid for everyone affected by the wildfires will be “my first political priority,” he said, promising that all burnt areas would be reforested.
“When this nightmarish summer has passed, we will turn all our attention to repairing the damage as fast as possible, and in restoring our natural environment again,” Mitsotakis said.
Inhe Mani area of southern Peloponnese, south of Sparta, a local official estimated the wildfire there had destroyed around 70% of its size.
“It’s a biblical catastrophe. We’re talking about three-quarters of the municipality,” East Mani Deputy Mayor Eleni Drakoulakou told state broadcaster ERT, pleading for more water-dropping aircraft.
Other officials and residents in southern Greece phoned TV programs, appealing live on air for more firefighting help.
Greece requested help through the European Union’s emergency support system. Firefighters and aircraft were sent from France, Spain, Ukraine, Cyprus, Croatia, Sweden, Israel, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, and the United States.
On Saturday alone, Germany’s Disaster Assistance agency tweeted that 52 firefighters and 17 vehicles from Bonn and 164 firefighters and 27 vehicles from Hessen were heading to Athens to help. Egypt said it was sending two helicopters, while 36 Czech firefighters with 15 vehicles left for Greece.
The causes of the fires are under investigation. Three people were arrested Friday — in the greater Athens area, central and southern Greece — on suspicion of starting blazes, in two cases intentionally.
Another person, a 47-year-old Greek, was arrested Saturday afternoon in the Athens suburb of Petroupoli for lighting two fires in a grove and setting four dumpsters on fire, police said.
Greek and European officials also have blamed climate change for the large number of fires burning through southern Europe, from southern Italy to the Balkans, Greece, and Turkey.
Fires described as the worst in decades have swept through stretches of Turkey’s southern coast for the past ten days, killing eight people. The top Turkish forestry official said 217 fires had been brought under control since July 28 in over half of the country’s provinces. However, firefighters still worked Saturday to tame six fires in two provinces.
In Turkey’s seaside province of Mugla, a popular region for tourists, some fires appeared to be under control Saturday. However, the forestry minister said blazes were still burning in the Milas area. Environmental groups urged authorities to protect the forests of Sandras Mountain from nearby fires.
Further north, at least six neighborhoods were evacuated due to a wildfire in western Aydin province, where shifting winds were making containment efforts difficult, Turkish media reported.
Onon Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, municipal officials in Antalya said a wildfire was still burning around the Eynif plain, where wild horses live.
Such natural disasters are becoming more likely and more destructive due to global climate changes associated with human activities.
This summer, wildfires are raging in neighboring Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Turkey, as well as in the US state of California.
Massive fires also have been burning across Siberia in northern Russia for weeks, forcing the evacuation Saturday of a dozen villages. In all, wildfires have burned nearly 15 million acres this year in Russia.
In the U.S., hot, bone-dry, gusty weather has also fueled devastating wildfires in California.You may read about Kurdish environmentalists who had fought raging wildfires in Iran here.