WORLD Thousands flee as Greece's wildfires continue to rage


Thousands flee as Greece's wildfires continue to rage


08:30, August 07, 2021

Locals walk away from the flames in the Dekeleia area, north of Athens. (Photo: AFP)

Thousands of people fled their homes on the outskirts of Athens, Friday, while hundreds were evacuated by boat from the island of Evia as Greece faced a fourth day of wildfires fuelled by strong winds and searing temperatures.

Like elsewhere in Europe, Greece has been grappling with extreme weather this summer and a week-long heatwave – its worst in 30 years – has sparked simultaneous wildfires in many parts of the country, burning homes and killing animals as flames tore through thousands of acres of land.

In neighboring Turkey, authorities are battling the country's worst ever wildfires, which forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. In Italy, hot winds fanned flames on the island of Sicily this week.

On Friday, Greek authorities ordered the evacuation of more suburbs north of Athens, where wildfires on the foothills of Mount Parnitha burst back into life late on Thursday after dying down earlier in the week.

As the fire burned around the main highway linking the capital to northern Greece, hundreds of firefighters with water-bombing aircraft tried to stop flames reaching the nearby town of Marathon.

"We might have to spend the night in the car if we don't find a friend to host us," said Yorgos, 26, who had to leave his home in the suburb of Polydendro.

Toxic fumes

Athenians were told to stay indoors again to avoid toxic fumes as the blaze, fueled by winds and explosions on high-voltage power lines, sent a cloud of smoke over the capital.

Temperatures have been over 40 degrees Celsius all week and no let-up was expected on Friday, with gale-force winds expected to spread the flames further.

The Athens power grid operator announced staggered power cuts in the surrounding region to ensure there were no major outages in mainland Greece.

On the island of Evia, where the flames have burned through a vast area of pine forest since Tuesday and reached the sea, coastguard vessels assisted by tourist boats have picked up 631 people since late Thursday from three beaches.

The island's deputy governor, George Kelaiditis, called it "the biggest catastrophe in Evia in 50 years," with hundreds of damaged houses and thousands of acres of burned forest land.

In the Peloponnese, where firefighters saved Ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games, from a raging fire this week, the flames left behind scorched earth and dead animals.

"A catastrophe," said farmer Marinos Anastopoulos. "The fire came around midday with swirling winds and homes were burned, a lot of animals burned to death. Rabbits, sheep, dogs, everything."

Joining firefighters from countries including France, Cyprus and Sweden, Israel said it was sending a team of 16 firefighters to Greece.

So far, at least nine people have been taken to hospital with varying degrees of injury, including two volunteer firefighters treated for burns in intensive care units in Athens, health officials said.

Worst wildfires since 2003

This July was the worst for wildfires since at least 2003, scientists from the European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service have said.

As well as Europe, fires have been plaguing areas of North America, Siberia and Africa. The ignition of vegetation has released some 343 megatons of carbon, the service calculated, about a fifth more than the previous global peak for July, which was set in 2014.

"This stands out by a clear margin," said Mark Parrington, lead scientist at the service, which estimates carbon emissions. "The world total for July this year is the highest since our records began in 2003."

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