Combined international effort halts spread of wildfires across Greece
Hundreds of firefighters from across Europe and the Middle East worked alongside Greek colleagues in rugged terrain on Wednesday to contain flare-ups of the huge wildfires that ravaged Greece’s forests for a week, destroying homes and forcing evacuations.
The spread of the blazes has been largely halted, officials said, but fronts still burned on the large island of Evia and in Greece’s southern Peloponnese region.
The fires broke out last week as Greece had just experienced its worst and most protracted heat wave since 1987, leaving its forests tinder-dry. Other nearby nations such as Turkey and Italy also faced similar searing temperatures and quickly spreading fires, while Spain and Portugal were on alert for wildfires amid a heat wave forecast to last through Monday.
At the other end of the Mediterranean, in Algeria, wildfires killed 42 people on Tuesday.
Worsening drought and heat – both linked to climate change – have also fuelled wildfires this summer in the Western US and in Russia’s northern Siberia region.
Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving extreme events.
Greece’s government said a total of 900 firefighters, including teams from Poland, Romania, Cyprus, Ukraine, Serbia, Slovakia and Moldova, were in action on Evia, which is the country’s second-largest island and linked to the mainland by bridge.
Evia’s rugged, forested northern part, with upland villages and small seaside resorts, has suffered the greatest damage from this month’s blazes, with an estimated 123,000 acres lost, together with dozens of homes.
Another 600 firefighters from Greece, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, France and Germany were deployed on Wednesday near ancient Olympia and in Arcadia in the Peloponnese, assisted by 14 water-dropping aircraft and volunteers.
A massive fire that broke out last week north of Athens has been limited to a section of a national park on Mount Parnitha, with mostly ground forces trying to put it out with the help of a helicopter. Firefighters from France, Qatar, Kuwait and Israel were deployed there.
Despite the massive destruction to forests, wildlife and livestock — and homes, although official estimates are not yet available — Greek authorities’ core policy of evacuating villages to protect extensive loss of life has paid off: One volunteer firefight died last week after being struck by a falling electricity pole, and two have been hospitalised in serious condition with burns.
The health ministry said on Wednesday that another three firefighters required treatment for respiratory problems and light burns suffered in the Arcadia fire.
The causes of the blazes are under investigation, and authorities say that in at least one major blaze arson seems likely. Several people have been arrested in different parts of the country and charged with causing fires, in some cases intentionally.
The government has pledged a large compensation and reforestation programme.
In neighbouring Turkey, firefighters worked to early Wednesday to extinguish a wildfire in the southwest Mugla province, which runs along the Aegean Sea. At least eight people and countless animals have died in more than 200 wildfires in Turkey since July 28.