Greece burning: wildfires spread, causing mass evacuations

    09 Aug 2021

    Thousands of tourists and residents have been evacuated from towns north of the Greek capital, Athens, as wildfires spread across the country.

    Strong winds and high temperatures make it difficult to control the blazes, which have killed at least two people, including a firefighter.

    Vast clouds of smoke and ash near Athens have meant some people have also been urged to leave their homes, BBC reports.

    More than 150 fires have been reported. Six areas have been put on high alert.

    Greece, like many parts of Europe, has been grappling with extreme weather this summer. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the fires showed “the reality of climate change.”

    Hundreds of firefighters are trying to control the fires with about 20 water-bombing aircraft. Extra firefighters and planes are being sent in from countries including the UK, France, and the US.

    The UK government said Home Secretary Priti Patel was sending “experienced firefighters” after witnessing the “devastating effect” of the fires while in Greece earlier this week.

    Fanned by unpredictable winds, the worst blazes are around the north of Athens. A falling electricity pole killed a 38-year-old volunteer firefighter in a suburb of the city.

    The other victim was the president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce, Konstantinos Michalos. He was found unconscious in a factory close to where a fire was raging.

    A further 20 people have been injured.

    The fires are expected to continue to burn and spread on Saturday, despite a drop in temperatures to around 35° C from above 40° C earlier this week.

    Thousands of people were earlier ordered to leave their homes outside Athens as the blaze tore through houses, cars, and businesses.

    Fires have also been raging on the nearby island of Evia and areas close to ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games.

    Government minister Nikos Hardalias said firefighters were facing hazardous conditions.

    “Wildfires of unprecedented intensity and spread, all our forces are fighting the battle day and night to save lives, together with volunteers,” he said.

    Hundreds of residents and tourists on Evia have been evacuated using ferries and fishing boats as wildfires closed in on its shores.

    “We’re talking about the apocalypse; I don’t know how to describe it,” Sotiris Danikas, a coastguard official on the island, told broadcaster ERT.

    The air in northern Athens is full of the smell of smoke, and there is a thin layer of ash on the ground. People from some of the outer suburbs have been evacuated from their homes.

    One man stared in horror as the flames headed down the mountainside towards his house.

    Planes and helicopters carrying water to drop on the flames flew overhead, but emergency crews struggle to stop the wildfires from spreading.

    The strong, hot winds are not helping. Greece, like much of the rest of Europe, has been grappling with extreme weather this summer.

    In neighboring Turkey, authorities are battling the country’s worst-ever wildfires.

    Eight people have been killed, and tens of thousands evacuated along the southern coast. Six more neighborhoods near a power station were evacuated on August 6.

    Greece battles wildfires for the fifth day in ‘nightmarish summer’

    Fires blazed uncontrolled for the fifth day in Greece on August 7, ravaging swathes of land on its second-biggest island of Evia, where hundreds of people had to be evacuated by ferry and locals joined firefighters in battling the flames, Reuters states.

    A fire that began on Tuesday on the island east of Athens quickly burgeoned into several fronts, ripping through thousands of hectares (acres) of pristine forest in the north and forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages.

    “The situation is tough,” Central Greece Governor Fanis Spanos told Skai TV. “The northern front is traversing the island from one side to the other.”

    Wildfires have erupted in many parts of the country amid Greece’s worst heatwave in more than 30 years, burning forestland, destroying homes and businesses, and killing animals.

    Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called it a “nightmarish summer,” adding the government’s priority “has been, first and foremost, to protect human lives.”

    On the outskirts of Athens, strong winds pushed a fire into the town of Thrakomakedones, where residents had been ordered to evacuate. The blaze left behind burnt and blackened houses and cars among scorched pine trees. A cloud of smoke hovered over the capital.

    “(It’s) awful,” said Thanasis Kaloudis, a resident of Thrakomakedones. “All of Greece has burned.”

    The fire on the foothills of Mount Parnitha north of Athens forced the evacuation of thousands of people since late Thursday. It had receded by Saturday afternoon, but winds were forecast to strengthen, and there was still a high threat they would flare again.

    “Under no circumstances can we be complacent,” Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said during an emergency briefing. “We are fighting a massive battle.”

    Dozens of wildfires broke out in the last 24 hours, with the most enormous fronts still burning in Evia and areas in the Peloponnese, including Arkadia and Ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games.

    Neighboring Turkey is also battling what President Tayyip Erdogan says are the worst wildfires in its history, and five fires were still burning there on Saturday.

    That number was slightly lower than in recent days. In the Mediterranean resort of Manavgat, where the first fires broke out ten days ago, rain showers helped firefighters to extinguish the last flames.

    Further west in the Aegean province of Mugla, four fires were still blazing as a sustained, dry heatwave continued, while another fire burned inland in Isparta.

    Eight people have died in fires that have ravaged Turkey’s southwestern coastal regions, burning tens of thousands of hectares and forcing thousands of residents and tourists to leave homes and hotels.

    Greece has deployed the army to help fight the fires and has received reinforcements from several countries, including Cyprus, France, and Israel. Germany said it was sending firefighters and vehicles expected to arrive in three to four days.

    In dramatic sea rescues, more than 2,000 people, including many elderly residents, have been evacuated by ferries from Evia this week as the skies turned an apocalyptic red.

    On August 6, one man died in Athens after being injured by an electricity pylon, and at least nine others have been injured, authorities said.

    The government planned to reimburse people affected by the fires and would designate the burned land as areas for reforestation, Mitsotakis said.

    Residents in the suburbs north of Athens have been forced to leave in a hurry with the few belongings they can take.

    “Our business, our home, all of our property is there. I hope they don’t burn,” Yorgos Papaioannou, 26, said on Friday, sitting in a parking lot with his girlfriend as ash fell around them from the smoke-filled sky.

    The most incredible heat in 30 years. In Greece, large-scale forest fires are recorded for the fourth day

    One person was killed, and 20 others were injured in large-scale forest fires in Greece, BBC reports.

    The fire has been going on in different parts of the country for four days now. The largest recorded in Evia – the second largest island of Greece – and the Peloponnese, in the south.

    Some people were forced to leave their homes. In Evia alone, more than 2,000 tourists and locals have been evacuated in the past 24 hours.

    The fire destroyed 56,000 hectares of forest and 150 houses in Evia.

    According to experts, fires are related to climate change, which increases the risk of hot and dry weather. The country is currently experiencing the most extraordinary heat in more than 30 years.

    Authorities warn that there is a high risk of further fires in many regions, including Athens and Crete.

    Several countries have already offered support to Greece. Authorities in Britain, France, the United States, Romania, and Switzerland have sent firefighters to help affected areas.

    Explanation: the burning issue of wildfires

    Mark Kinver, the BBC environment reporter, revealed in his article some of the ways that planet Earth has been changing against the backdrop of a warming world.

    In recent years, the devastating impact of wildfires has been dominating headlines worldwide, as millions of acres were destroyed and thousands of people left homeless. Although fires have long been part of natural history, scientists are voicing concern that recent fires are becoming more frequent, intense, and widespread.

    In the first few hours of the new year in 2020, a devastating bushfire arrived in the New South Wales village of Cobargo. Within hours, the fire had ripped through the main street, leaving tiny but smoky, charred ruins in its wake.

    The destroyed village became one of the defining symbols of what is now being referred to as Australia’s Black Summer, which killed at least 34 people, an estimated three billion animals, and scorched 186,000 square kilometers.

    Although wildfires have long been part of the landscape, they are becoming more frequent, widespread, and intense.

    Each summer, parts of the world are gripped by these natural infernos, with flames traveling at speeds similar to the bulls rampaging through the Spanish streets of Pamplona.

    At these speeds, it becomes almost impossible for firefighters to stop and control the spreading fire and to protect homes and properties in its path.

    Rewriting (natural) history

    However, it is worth noting that wildfires have long been part of the natural cycle in many habitats. Without these natural fires, we would not have many of the species that thrive in these environments.

    Some trees actually need fire to germinate and produce the forests of the future.

    For example, a species of gum (eucalyptus) tree has seeds that are coated in a resin requiring them to be exposed to fire to melt the resin and expose the seed within. Other trees with thick barks act as heat shields to protect the vital sapwood that transports nutrients and water throughout the tree.

    Without fire, many of the trees that depend on or have adapted to this “fire ecology” would struggle to reproduce, changing the habitat. This would make life difficult for the species that rely upon them to survive.

    Feeling the heat

    However, there is genuine concern that the fires that once were the savior of these landscapes are now becoming too frequent and too intense.

    A 2017 report by the US Global Change Research Program recorded a “profound increase in forest fire activity” in recent decades.

    It cited warmer, drier conditions, increased drought, and a more extended fire season as reasons for boosting the wildfire risk.

    How bushfires can create their own weather

    Another factor is the emergence of new pests and diseases that cause widespread dieback of plants and trees.

    For example, the emerald ash borer has killed millions of trees throughout the US.

    This results in a vast volume of deadwood remaining in the landscape, which  – in turn – acts as a fuel to feed any wildfires that do break out.

    In its fourth assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said: “Disturbances such as wildfire and insect outbreaks are increasing and are likely to intensify in a warmer future with drier soils and longer growing seasons.”

    It added: “Warmer summer temperatures are expected to extend the annual window of high fire ignition risk by 10-30%.”

    While some wildfires are caused by lightning strikes, the vast majority are believed to be started by people – either accidentally or intentionally.

    Scientists say it is necessary to develop measures to help local communities to become more resilient to the increased risk of wildfires – primarily through land management of areas surrounding settlements and through an education program on how to reduce the risks of fires being started in the first place.

    Climate change increases the risk of the hot, dry weather that is likely to fuel wildfires.

    The world has already warmed by about 1.2° C since the industrial era began, and temperatures will keep rising unless governments worldwide make steep cuts to emissions.

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