In neighboring Turkey, fires described as the worst in decades have swept across swathes of the country’s southern coast in the past 10 days, killing eight people. A fire threatening Greece’s most important national park has killed a volunteer firefighter, while at least 20 people have been injured in fires during the country’s worst heat wave in 30 years. Thousands of residents and vacationers fled the approaching flames by land and sea.
In apocalyptic scenes overnight and through to Saturday, ferries evacuated 1,153 people from a seaside village and beaches in Evia, an island of rugged and wooded mountains popular with vacationers and campers, after the flames a huge forest fire burning for days cut off all other means of escape. People would grab babies and carry older adults on chairs as they boarded small ferries to get to safety.
Another major fire was burning in the Mani region of the southern Peloponnese, where the deputy mayor of East Mani, Eleni Drakoulakou, told state broadcaster ERT that 70% of her region had been destroyed.
“It’s a biblical catastrophe. We are talking about three quarters of the municipality, ”said Drakoulakou, pleading for more support from the dropped planes.
Multiple fierce fires have pushed Greece’s firefighting forces to their limit. The government has appealed for help through the European Union’s emergency aid system. Firefighters and planes have arrived from France, Ukraine, Cyprus, Croatia, Sweden and Israel, with more expected to arrive from Romania and Switzerland on Saturday.
Civil protection chief Nikos Hardalias, speaking at a briefing Friday evening, said firefighters were facing “exceptionally dangerous and unprecedented conditions” as they battled 154 wildfires this week, 64 of which were still burning in the night.
“In the last few days we have been faced with an unprecedented situation in our country, in the intensity and wide distribution of forest fires, and new outbreaks all over (Greece),” he said. . “I want to assure you that all available forces are participating in the fight. “
The country was hit by its most prolonged heat wave in three decades, with temperatures reaching 45 ° C. Temperatures eased on Friday, but winds picked up, making the situation even worse.
Orders to evacuate villages and neighborhoods have been constant, sent by push alerts to cellphones in affected areas, as police and firefighters have gone door to door urging people to leave homes. on the way to the flames.
Changing winds and new hot spots on Friday caused the fires north of Athens and Evia to change direction several times, returning in some cases to threaten areas that had narrowly escaped destruction earlier in the week.
After burning forests and houses towards Lake Marathon, the capital’s main water reservoir, a branch of the fire moved into Mount Parnitha National Park. The park, one of the last remaining substantial forests near Athens, still bears the deep scars of wildfires in 2007.
The 38-year-old volunteer firefighter who was killed died of head injuries on Friday after being struck by a falling utility pole in an area north of the capital, officials said. At least 20 people required treatment across the country, including two firefighters hospitalized in intensive care.
The causes of the fires are under investigation. Hardalias said three people were arrested on Friday – in the greater Athens region, in central and southern Greece – on suspicion of starting fires, in two cases intentionally. Police said the suspect detained north of Athens started fires in three separate locations in the area ravaged by the big blaze, which first broke out on Tuesday.
Greek and European officials have also blamed climate change for a large number of summer fires in southern Europe, from southern Italy to the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.
In Italy, firefighters fighting a forest fire in the province of Reggio Calabria found the bodies of a man and a woman in an olive grove. Italian news agency LaPresse said the two men died from smoke inhalation.
Massive fires have also been burning in Siberia in northern Russia for weeks, while hot, dry and gusty weather has also fueled devastating wildfires in California.