Thousands of tourists and residents were evacuated as a thick cloud of smoke covered Athens as forest fires continued in Greece, in a scene that seemed like a “nightmare”, while its intensity subsided in neighboring Turkey.
On both sides of the Aegean, thousands of residents and tourists have been evacuated in recent days, many by sea, in the face of advancing fires fueled by rising temperatures.
Although the situation began to improve with rain on the Turkish coast, where 13 fires were still burning Saturday for 200 days, fires are increasing in Greece and are still fueled by strong winds in some places.
The fires have burned more than 30,000 hectares of land in Greece in recent days, according to the European Forest Fire Information System, a body backed by the European Union.
And 1,450 Greek firefighters, supported by reinforcements from other countries, were continuing their fierce battle to combat five major fires on the island of Evia, 200 km east of Athens, and three fires in the Peloponnese peninsula to the west, according to the fire authority.
Greek authorities counted 154 fires, 64 of which were still active on Friday evening.
“When this nightmare ends, we will repair all the damage as soon as possible,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed Saturday morning from the main office of the Athens Fire Service.
Violent fires continued to advance towards the east and Lake Marathon, the largest water reserve in the capital, after causing the evacuation of dozens of areas. Its thick smoke and sharp smell spread again in the capital overnight, and strong winds are expected during the day.
On the island of Evia, more than 1,300 people were evacuated by boat overnight from the blaze-engulfed coastal village of Limni. More than 20 other people were evacuated on Saturday morning from Rovis Beach, which is also on this vast island in the east of the country, according to Greek media.
Local authorities called for more air support to effectively tackle the Evia fire, which worsened on Saturday.
In the Peloponnese, hundreds of hectares of land were burned to the east of the archaeological site of Olympia and in the Mani and Messinia regions.
Mayor Eleni Draculaco said that “more than 15 villages were engulfed in flames” in eastern Mani, denouncing the lack of air resources in an interview with ERT.
More than 5,000 residents and tourists were forced to flee the fires that burned 50 percent of this mountainous and tourist area, according to the mayor’s estimates.
On August 5, the area of burnt areas in Greece exceeded by 180 percent the average for the period 2008-2020 according to data from the European Forest Fire Information System. This is without counting the August 5 and 6 figures, which are estimated to cover an area of more than 15,000 hectares, according to Kathimerini daily.
At this point in the year 2021, the fires have destroyed more forests and pine forests than in three years (2017 to 2020), Andrianos Gorbatsis, the former head of the Greek fire services, reported Saturday to the website Ethnos.
The prime minister promised rapid reforestation. “The burned areas will be given priority for reforestation,” he told reporters.
A UN draft seen by AFP describes the Mediterranean as a “climate change hotspot”.
On the other hand, the rains that fell in southwestern Turkey contributed to the improvement of the situation in the Antalya region. According to the local authorities, the fires were brought under control, including in Manfagat, where heavy rain continued on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Turkish firefighters are continuing their efforts in Mugla district as three neighborhoods have been evacuated, according to the municipality.
Eight people were killed and dozens were hospitalized due to 200 fires raging in southern Turkey for the past week. Also, two people were killed in Greece and about twenty people were injured, including two firefighters who were taken to hospital and their condition is critical.
Greece and Turkey are facing an exceptional heatwave that experts attribute to the phenomenon of climate change.