Greek authorities said that many regions are on high alert for wildfires on Wednesday as soaring temperatures and strong winds hamper efforts to contain blazes that have broken out across the country.
(Bloomberg) — Greek authorities said that many regions are on high alert for wildfires on Wednesday as soaring temperatures and strong winds hamper efforts to contain blazes that have broken out across the country.
The warning includes areas where fires are already burning, such as Alexandroupolis and the greater Athens region. In just the past 24 hours, the fire service was called to handle 93 fires, while the blaze near Athens, the capital, threatens to move onto Parnitha mountain and burn one of the last forests around the city.
Also on Tuesday, 18 people were found dead in the Dadia forest in northeast Greece. As no residents have been reported missing from nearby villages, authorities believe the victims were migrants.
Officials evacuated the hospital in the nearby city of Alexandroupolis as well as eight villages in the surrounding area until the fire — one of at least 10 currently spreading in Greece — can be contained.
The fires are the latest instance of extreme weather in the past few months. Record-breaking temperatures, violent storms, flooding and wildfires have stunned Europe and North America, and Greece alone has experienced fires in recent days that have burned over 99,000 acres. Global warming has increased the intensity of such events — July was the world’s hottest month on record.
In Alexandropoulis, darkness fell early on Tuesday as the fire, which has been burning since Saturday morning, filled the air with smoke and dust.
The fire also damaged power cables, cutting power on the island of Samothraki in the north Aegean Sea.
Another fire broke out on Tuesday in Aspropyrgos, a town northwest of Athens, prompting authorities to evacuate parts of the area and to stop traffic on one of the main highways into the capital. There have been 473 fires in the region since early May, a fire service spokesperson said on Open TV, with most triggered by illegal fireworks.
Read more: Greece Fights Wild Fires as Heat Blankets Southern Europe
In Fili, a small municipality in the foothills of the Parnitha mountains about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) northwest of Athens, changing wind patterns pushed flames toward residential areas. Locals fought the fire with garden hoses and hurried to protect horses and sheep.
The fires in Alexandroupolis and in the Attica region, which include Athens, Fili and Aspropyrgos, are the most difficult at the moment, a fire service spokesman said on state-run ertnews web TV on Tuesday. In some areas, winds have been blowing at speeds of up to 74 km (46 miles) per hour, and homes, cars and businesses have been destroyed.
Spokespeople for the government and opposition Syriza party traded barbs on Tuesday as the emergency unfolded.
In an interview with state-run ERT TV, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis accused the opposition of trying to use the fires for political purposes. Fire is “a phenomenon that happens all over the world,” he said.
Syriza spokesperson Stergios Kalpakis responded in kind. “For the fourth day the country is experiencing a fiery hell, with the loss of our fellow human beings and an incalculable environmental disaster,” he wrote, adding that the government was attacking his party instead of dealing with the fires “in a timely and efficient manner.”
In a statement later that afternoon, Migration Minister Dimitris Kairidis expressed the government’s sorrow at the deaths in the Dadia forest.
“Despite the constant and persistent efforts of the Greek authorities to protect the borders and human life, this tragedy confirms, once again, the dangers of irregular migration,” he added.
–With assistance from Fergal O’Brien, Cedric Sam and Lars Paulsson.
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