A wildfire near the Greek capital continued to spread on Wednesday after winds picked up speed, set more homes ablaze and endangered residents attempting to protect properties.
(Bloomberg) — A wildfire near the Greek capital continued to spread on Wednesday after winds picked up speed, set more homes ablaze and endangered residents attempting to protect properties.
The fires are the latest instance of extreme weather in a summer that has seen record-breaking temperatures, violent storms, flooding and wildfires stun Europe and North America. In July, wildfires in Greece ravaged homes and natural areas and led to the deaths of livestock and wild animals as the country saw temperatures rise to near all-time highs.
Strong winds and an unusually long stretch of intense heat have given rise to a patchwork of wildfires, some of which have been burning for days. In northeast Greece, authorities found 18 dead people in a forest yesterday after fire swept through the area, while in the past five days the fire service has been called on to extinguish 355 blazes.
“It’s a not-seen-before situation,” Civil Protection minister Vasilis Kikilias said Wednesday, adding that this summer marked the first time that so many regions had been put on the highest level of fire alert since the state started collecting meteorological data and issuing fire warnings. Greece is receiving help through the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism, and planes, helicopters and firefighters have been sent in from Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Romania and Sweden.
The fire that broke out in Fili yesterday moved southeast and is still burning homes, cars and threatening a forest on one of the last green mountains near Athens. The small municipality in the foothills is about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) northwest of the capital, yet smoke from the fire has drifted to central Athens, making it unpleasant to breathe even in enclosed spaces.
Greek authorities have ordered the evacuation of several areas around the blaze, including three senior citizens’ homes in a northwest suburb, according to state-run ERT TV. A migrant detention camp was also evacuated as a precaution. More than 200 firefighters, seven planes and eight helicopters are working to contain the conflagration, and many residents have stayed in the area to protect their homes with buckets, hoses and branches.
In the northeastern region of Evros, a fire that started on Saturday morning is continuing to spread and is heading west. Eighteen people were found dead in a scorched forest in the area on Tuesday, two of whom were children, according to authorities.
As no residents have been reported missing from nearby villages, authorities said the victims were migrants who had crossed the nearby border with Turkey. In a separate incident, three civilians were arrested near Alexandroupolis for holding several migrants captive in a trailer, spurring debate on social media.
A prosecutor from Greece’s Supreme Court has asked a local prosecutor in Alexandroupolis to conduct a preliminary investigation into possible causes of the fire in light of reports of arson. The local prosecutor has also been asked to look into incidents of violence reported against migrants.
Greece’s police, fire and secret services are investigating how 15 fires began almost at the same time in Evros, Kikilias said.
Opposition parties have heavily criticized Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis over his handling of the wildfires, which have burned more than 90,000 acres in the past three days.
“Security and civil protection is the Waterloo of this government,” said Nikos Androulakis, leader of the socialist Pasok party. In an interview on ANT1 TV, Stergios Kalpakis, spokesman of main opposition leftist Syriza party, described the situation for Greeks as living in “days of total collapse.”
Mitsotakis plans to bring the issue up for debate in parliament, according to the government’s spokesman, who added that this is not the right time to exchange political barbs.
Many regions were on high alert for wildfires on Wednesday, including areas near Athens and in Alexandroupolis where fires are already burning. High winds and temperatures expected to rise to just under 40C could exacerbate conditions. The capital city and surrounding region have been warned that fires will likely continue into Thursday.
(Updates with details throughout, adds comments from minister)
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