Disasters & Accidents

Greece struggles to contain raging wildfires for fifth day in ‘unprecedented’ crisis

Athens, Aug 23 (EFE).- Firefighters in Greece were struggling Wednesday to control massive forest fires that have been raging for five days and have killed at least 28 people.

The fires have burned more than 43,000 hectares.

Thick smoke has stretched 950 kilometers (590 miles) southwest of the fire’s epicenter, covering 80% of the country’s surface, some 110,000 square kilometers (42,400 square miles).

Several fire fronts are out of control as a new wave of scorching heat, severe drought and high winds hamper firefighting efforts.

“It is an unprecedented situation. This summer has been the worst since meteorological records began,” Vassilis Kikilias, Minister for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection, told a press conference in Athens today.

In the last five days, firefighters have tackled 355 forest fires, 209 of which were declared in the last 48 hours, he added.

On Wednesday morning, the “high risk” fire alert was extended to 18 regions of the country, and to “extremely critical” in the vicinity of the Parnitha National Park, north of Athens, Kikilias stressed.

“All our efforts are focused on halting the fire front, while continuing the superhuman efforts of our firefighters, volunteers and citizens on the parallel fire fronts we face,” he said.

Eleven teams with 226 firefighters, 69 vehicles, 9 helicopters and 8 seaplanes were battling to contain the fire in Parnitha, which has raged uncontrollably for almost 30 hours, causing unquantifiable material damage and forcing the evacuation of four towns on Wednesday.

The most devastating fire broke out on Saturday near the town of Alexandroupolis in the northeastern region of Evros, about 25 kilometers from the Turkish border, and has claimed at least 19 lives.

Authorities found 18 charred bodies of suspected irregular migrants in a forest in the Evros region on Wednesday, where a local farmer also died trying to save his animals.

Greek media reported that the bodies of nine more irregular migrants were found in the area, but there has been no official confirmation.

The rapid advance of the flames has prompted civil protection officials to order the evacuation of two towns in the area on Thursday.

According to the Minister, in addition to the big fire in Evros, firefighters are also battling 9 high-risk fires in Attica, 6 in Boeotia and 1 on the island of Euboea where 35 firefighters, a trekking team, 12 vehicles and 2 planes were involved in extinguishing a fire declared at noon Wednesday in Kondodespoti, a forested area.

“The civil protection unit is giving 110% of its strength,” the minister stressed.

The fires have also forced the evacuation of several towns, nursing homes and a migrant detention center north of Athens.

The National Observatory of Athens has warned that high concentrations of microparticles have been recorded even hundreds of kilometers from the fire fronts.

Smoke and odors from the fire in the town of Fili, about 15 km from Athens, have affected most of the town.

“I closed all the windows so as not to inhale the ashes, but the temperature in my apartment has risen to more than 40 degrees,” a woman living in Athens told Efe.

“In my 32 years of service with the corps, I have never seen such extreme conditions,” said fire chief George Pournaras at a press conference Wednesday.

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