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'We're talking about the apocalypse': Thousands flee wildfires burning out of control in Greece

Firefighters are battling 56 active wildfires, Civil Protection chief Nikos Hardalias said.

wildfires-2021-in-greece People leave the village Limni in Evia to be saved from the fire by ferry boat. Source: Eurokinissi/PA Images

THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE have fled wildfires burning out of control in Greece, including a major blaze just north of the capital of Athens that left one person dead.

A protracted heatwave has turned forests into tinderboxes and flames threatened populated areas, electricity installations and historic sites.

Firefighters are battling 56 active wildfires, Civil Protection chief Nikos Hardalias said.

Multiple evacuation orders were issued for inhabited areas of the mainland and the nearby island of Evia, while the fire near Athens burned forests and houses in its path heading toward Lake Marathon, the capital’s main reservoir.

“We continue our effort hour by hour to tackle the multiple fires we face today,” Mr Hardalias said. “Conditions are exceptionally dangerous.”

The wind picked up this afternoon in many parts of Greece, increasing the risk of fires.

forest-fires-rage-near-athens-greece Firefighter tries to extinguish a fire as volunteers hold the water hose during a wildfire in Agios Stefanos. Source: Eurokinissi

Athens’ main trauma hospital said a 38-year-old man died after sustaining a head injury from a falling utility pole in Ippokrateios Politeia, one of the neighbourhoods north of Athens affected by the fire.

On Evia, the coast guard mounted a major operation to evacuate hundreds of people by sea, using patrol vessels, fishing and tourist boats and private vessels.

Dozens of other villages and neighbourhoods were emptied in the southern Peloponnese region and just north of the Greek capital as blazes raced through pine forests.

“We’re talking about the apocalypse, I don’t know how to describe it,” Sotiris Danikas, head of the coast guard in the town of Aidipsos on Evia, told state broadcaster ERT, describing the sea evacuation.

The coast guard said 668 people had been evacuated from beaches in north-east Evia by early this afternoon after flames cut off all other means of escape. Coast guard vessels continued to patrol the coastline.

A coast guard vessel was also rescuing another 10 people trapped on a beach by another fire near the town of Gythio in the southern Peloponnese region.

Climate change

Greek and European officials have blamed climate change for the multiple fires burning through swathes of southern Europe, from southern Italy to the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.

The UN’s IPCC has said that global warming has caused an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. 

The world has already warmed by about 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times due to human activity, and the UN IPCC has warned that this is likely to pass 1.5C between 2030 and 2052 if the increase continues at the current rate.

It is not only temperature that has changed: there have also been changes in rainfall, declines in snow and ice, and increases in sea-level as the oceans heat up.

This year, Greece has been baked by its most protracted heatwave in three decades, with temperatures soaring to 45C.

forest-fires-in-greece Smoke rises from burned ground in a wooded area north of Athens. Source: DPA/PA Images

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20 people injured

Thousands have fled homes and holiday accommodation, while at least 20 people, including four firefighters, have been treated for injuries. Two of the firefighters were in intensive care in Athens, while another two suffered minor burns.

Firefighters went door to door in areas around 12.5 miles north of Athens telling people to evacuate, while helicopters dropped water on towering flames and thick smoke blanketed the area.

Authorities sent alerts to mobile phones in the area urging residents to leave, while a refugee camp on the outskirts of the capital was evacuated overnight.

Constant flare-ups that threatened inhabited areas hampered the work of hundreds of firefighters there.

The fire halted traffic on the country’s main highway connecting Athens to northern Greece and damaged electricity installations. The power distribution company announced rolling cuts in the wider capital region to protect the electrical grid.

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