Forest fires are raging in Greece; 1000’s evacuated – WISH-TV | Indianapolis Information | Indiana climate
THRAKOMAKEDONES, Greece (AP) – Forest fires raged through Greek forests for another day on Saturday, threatening homes and sparking more evacuations a day after hundreds of people were plucked from beaches in a dramatic overnight rescue operation.
A volunteer firefighter has died and at least 20 people have been treated in hospitals. Dozens of fires burned across the country on Saturday, fires one official described as a “biblical disaster”.
Numerous homes, shops and farms have been burned down in the last week in fires that broke out during Greece’s longest and most intense heatwave in three decades.
A massive fire spread on the slopes of Mount Parnitha, a national park north of Athens that has some of the last great forests near the Greek capital. The fire sent choking clouds of smoke across Athens, where authorities have set up a hotline for residents with respiratory problems. Over night and all day, the firefighters struggled to contain constant flares.
In apocalyptic scenes that lasted into the night, small ferries and other boats evacuated 1,400 people from a coastal village and the beaches on Evia, an island with rugged, forested mountains popular with tourists and campers, after approaching flames cut off other escape routes. Behind them, towering flames and smoke covered the hills.
The scale of the forest fires in Greece was staggering, with more than 100 breaking out across the country in the last few days. Most were quickly tamed, but some quickly burned out of control, devoured houses and caused immeasurable ecological damage.
A local official in the Mani region of the Peloponnese estimated that the forest fire had destroyed around 70% of their area there.
“It is a biblical disaster. We’re talking about three-quarters of the community, “said Drakoulakou, Deputy Mayor of East Mani, to the state broadcaster ERT, pleading for more water-dripping planes.
Other local officials and residents in southern Greece, near Athens and on Evia, called television programs asking for more help fighting the fire live on the air.
The chief of civil protection, Nikos Hardalias, said the fire brigade had fought 55 active fires by Saturday afternoon.
“We are still fighting a very big fight. Our troops have worked hard all night, ”said Hardalias, adding that he expects the fire north of Athens to be contained within a day, provided no unexpected developments occur.
More than 850 firefighters, 40 ground teams, three planes, six helicopters and 215 vehicles worked to extinguish the flames north of Athens, Hardalias said, with Greek forces reinforced by French, Cypriot and Israeli firefighters.
In Evacia, where 39 villages had been evacuated, six planes, four helicopters, 475 firefighters and 35 ground teams were deployed, including Romanian and Ukrainian firefighters. The army sent 84 special forces while the navy provided a torpedo boat, two landing craft and 15 smaller boats to help evacuate the sea if necessary, Hardalias said.
Greece asked for help through the European Union’s emergency aid system. Firefighters and planes were deployed from France, Ukraine, Cyprus, Croatia, Sweden, Israel, Romania and Switzerland. Egypt said on Saturday it was sending two helicopters while 36 Czech firefighters were leaving for Greece with 15 vehicles, and Greek authorities said Spain was sending a plane too.
Fires, which have been described as the worst in decades, have raged across parts of Turkey’s neighboring south coast in the past 10 days, killing eight people. The top Turkish forest official said 217 fires had been brought under control in more than half of the country’s provinces since July 28, but firefighters were still working on Saturday to tame six fires in two Turkish provinces.
The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited the fire brigade headquarters in Athens on Saturday and expressed his “deep sorrow over what happened”.
Ensuring aid to everyone affected by the forest fires is “my first political priority,” he said, promising to make all burned areas reforestation zones.
“When this nightmarish summer is over, we will turn our full attention to repairing the damage as soon as possible and restoring our natural environment,” said Mitsotakis.
Greece has been baked in the longest heat wave in 30 years, with temperatures reaching 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit). Temperatures eased on Friday, but the wind picked up, further exacerbating the situation.
Evacuation orders for villages and neighborhoods were constant, pushing alerts to cellphones in the affected areas while some police and firefighters went door to door asking people to leave.
The causes of the fires are being investigated. Hardalias said three people were arrested on Friday – in the greater Athens area, central and southern Greece – on suspicion of deliberately starting fires in two cases. Police said the suspect arrested in northern Athens allegedly lit fires in three different locations in the area devastated by the great fire that first broke out on Tuesday.
Greek and European officials have also blamed climate change for the large number of fires that burn in southern Europe, from southern Italy to the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.
In Turkey’s coastal province of Mugla, a popular area for tourists, some fires appeared to be under control on Saturday and cooling efforts were under way. The forest minister said the fires in the Milas area were continuing. Environmental groups called on the authorities to protect the forests of the Sandras Mountain from nearby fires.
Further north, at least six quarters were evacuated due to a forest fire in the western province of Aydin, where changeable winds made containment efforts difficult, Turkish media reported.
City officials in Antalya on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast said wildfire is still burning in the Eynif Plain, where wild horses live.
Massive fires have also been burning in northern Russia for weeks, forcing a dozen villages to be evacuated on Saturday. In total, forest fires burned almost 15 million hectares in Russia this year.
In the United States, hot, bone-dry, gusty weather has fueled devastating forest fires in California as well.
Becatoros reported from Argostoli, Greece. Zeynep Bilginsoy contributed from Istanbul.