Fires in Greece render hundreds of families homeless

Published August 8, 2021
ATHENS: Flames draw perilously close to houses in the village of Afidnes, which is located some 30 kilometres north of the Greek capital.— AFP
ATHENS: Flames draw perilously close to houses in the village of Afidnes, which is located some 30 kilometres north of the Greek capital.— AFP

PEFKOFYTO: Hundreds of firefighters fought wildfires and flare-ups that have devoured record numbers of woodlands in Greece on Saturday and left hundreds of families homeless, but heavy rains brought some respite to hard-hit Turkey.

More than 1,450 Greek firefighters backed by at least 15 aircraft were battling the fires, with reinforcements arriving from other countries, the fire service said.

The blazes in Greece are set to continue, with strong winds and temperatures of up to 38 degrees C (100 F) forecast in some regions on Saturday.

This year’s fires have been far more destructive than in previous years. In the last 10 days, 56,655 hectares (140,000 acres) have been burnt in Greece, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

The average number of hectares burnt over the same period between 2008 and 2020 was 1,700 hectares. “When this nightmarish summer ends we will reverse the damage as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pledged on Saturday.

In Pefkofyto, in the north of Athens, pensioner Tasos Tsilivakos struggled to contain his tears. “This is a horrible disaster,” he said.

“I’m really afraid that maybe only our great-grand children will have the chance to walk again in these areas.”

One 62-year-old man from nearby Agios Stefanos told Alpha TV how after being evacuated he had had to watch his house burning on television. “My child is still crying from the shock,” he said.

Greece and Turkey have been fighting devastating fires for more than a week as the region suffers its worst heatwave in decades. Officials and experts have linked such intense weather events to climate change.

So far, they have killed two people in Greece and eight in Turkey, with dozens more hospitalised there during 10 days of the blazes.

A UN draft report labelled the Mediterranean region a “climate change hotspot”, warning that heatwaves, droughts and fires would become more fierce in the future, supercharged by rising temperatures.

But the weather gave Turkey some respite on Saturday. Officials in the Turkish coastal city of Antalya said the blazes were under control in the southwestern province after rainfall there.

And heavy rainfall was expected to continue until the afternoon in areas including Manavgat, one of the most affected by the fires.

The situation remained serious however around the tourist hotspot of Mugla, where at least three neighbourhoods have been ordered to evacuate.

There have been over 200 fires in 47 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli tweeted early on Saturday. Thirteen fires continue in five provinces.

Greek Civil Protection deputy minister Nikos Hardalias said on Saturday that 55 blazes were raging across Greece.

They were burning on Evia, the country’s second largest island, which lies east of the capital; in the Peloponnese region in the southwest; and in Fthiotida in Central Greece.

The fire front on Evia alone ran across 30 kilometres, said Fanis Spanos, regional governor of Central Greece, but in Attica peninsula the situation was “more stable”.

There is, however, concern as winds are expected to pick up pace later in the day, the Fire Brigade said.

Part of a motorway linking Athens to the north of the country that had been shut down as a precaution was reopened on Saturday.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2021

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