Hundreds of firefighters fought fires that have devoured record numbers of woodlands in Greece on Saturday and left hundreds of families homeless, but heavy rains brought respite to hard-hit Turkey.
More than 1,450 Greek firefighters backed by at least 15 aircraft were battling the blazes, with reinforcements arriving from abroad, the fire service said.
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In Pefkofyto, in the north of Athens, pensioner Tasos Tsilivakos struggled to contain his tears.
“This is a horrible disaster,” he told AFP.
“I’m really afraid that maybe only our great-grand children will have the chance to walk again in these areas.” One 62-year-old man from nearby Agios Stefanos told Alpha TV how after being evacuated he watched his house burning on television. “My child is still crying from the shock,” he said.
France and Britain said they were rushing to help Greece.
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that he had spoken with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis about the crisis.
“Solidarity as Europeans always,” Macron tweeted, saying France had deployed 80 firefighters and rescue workers as well as three Canadair firefighting planes.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted Saturday that Britain is sending “a team of experienced firefighters to support Greek firefighters currently battling the huge blazes”.
Egypt is also expected to send two helicopters and Spain one Canadair plane.
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With strong winds and temperatures of up to 38C forecast in some regions on Saturday, the blazes in Greece are expected to continue for some time. And this year’s fires have already been far more destructive than in previous years.
In the last 10 days, 56,655 hectares have been burnt in Greece, according to the European Forest Fire Information System. The average number of hectares burnt over the same period between 2008 and 2020 was 1,700 hectares.
“When this nightmarish summer ends we will reverse the damage as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Mitsotakis pledged on Saturday.
Greece and Turkey have been fighting devastating fires for more than a week as the region suffers its worst heatwave in decades. Officials and experts have linked such intense weather events to climate change.
So far, they have killed two people in Greece and eight in Turkey, with dozens more hospitalised there over 10 days.
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A UN draft report seen by AFP labelled the Mediterranean region a “climate change hotspot”, warning that heatwaves, droughts and fires would become more fierce in the future, supercharged by rising temperatures.
Rains help Turkey
But the weather gave Turkey some relief Saturday.
Officials in the coastal city of Antalya said the blazes were under control in the southwestern province after rainfall.
And heavy rain was expected till afternoon in areas including Manavgat, one of the most affected by the fires.
The situation remained serious however around the tourist hotspot of Mugla, where at least three neighbourhoods have been ordered to evacuate.
There have been over 200 fires in 47 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli tweeted Saturday. Thirteen of those fires in five provinces were still burning.
Fears of more high winds
Civil Protection deputy Minister, Nikos Hardalias said Saturday that 55 blazes were raging across Greece.
They were burning on Evia, the country’s second largest island, which lies east of the capital; in the Peloponnese region in the southwest; and in Fthiotida in Central Greece.
The fire front on Evia alone ran a length of 30 kilometres (18 miles), said Fanis Spanos, regional governor of Central Greece.
On the north of the island, another 23 were evacuated Saturday morning after 1,300 were plucked off the beaches by ferry boats the night before. Navy warships were on high alert off the coast in case more evacuations are required.
Meanwhile officials reopened part of a motorway linking Athens to the north of the country.
Central Greece governor Spanos told the Athens News Agency (ANA) that more than 300 families whose homes had been burned down were being sheltered in hotels.
And the situation remained dire in Mani, in the Peloponnese, where 5,000 people were evacuated Friday.
Eleni Drakoulakou, mayor of East Mani, told ERT TV on Saturday that half the municipality had been destroyed by the flames. She blamed a lack of water-bombing air support during the critical first hours of the wildfire.
ANA reported that two people had been charged for arson: a woman was arrested in Athens Friday carrying two lighters, petrol and flammable material, just after a fire broke out there.
And a 43-year-old man was arrested in Krioneri, northern Attica.