DROSOPIGI, Greece (AP) – Forest fires raged uncontrollably in Greece and Turkey for another day on Friday, forcing thousands to flee by land and sea, and killing a volunteer firefighter on the outskirts Athens in a huge forest fire that most threatened the Greek capital. important national park.
Eight people have died in the fires in Turkey, described as the worst in decades, which have swept across swathes of the southern coast in the past 10 days.
In Greece, which had suffered a record heat wave, civil protection chief Nikos Hardalias said firefighters faced “exceptionally dangerous and unprecedented conditions” as they battled 154 forest fires on Friday, including 64 were still burning in the night.
“During the last 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 during an evening briefing. âI want to assure you that all available forces are participating in the fight. “
Evacuation orders have been issued for dozens of villages on the mainland and neighboring island of Evia, as well as for outlying settlements on the wooded edge of Athens.
Changing winds and new hot spots on Friday afternoon caused the fires outside Athens and Evia to change direction several times, returning in some cases to threaten areas that had narrowly escaped destruction earlier this week.
After burning forests and houses towards Lake Marathon, the capital’s main water reservoir, a branch of the blaze made its way to Mount Parnitha National Park – one of the last substantial forests near from Athens, which already bore deep scars from the 2007 forest fires.
A 38-year-old volunteer firefighter has died after a fall from a utility pole that hit his head in an area north of Athens affected by the blaze, officials said. At least 20 people have needed treatment across the country.
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.
In the village of Limni on Evia, more than 1,000 residents were told to rush to the port and wait for embarkation after the flames cut off all other means of escape. A ferry carried 650 people and two more were heading towards the scene, the coast guard said.
Earlier today and Thursday evening, the Coast Guard evacuated nearly 700 residents and vacationers from other parts of the island, using patrol boats, fishing boats and other private vessels.
“We are talking about the apocalypse, I don’t know how to describe it,” Sotiris Danikas, head of the coastguard for the town of Aidipsos in Evia, told state broadcaster ERT, describing the previous maritime evacuation.
A coast guard ship also rescued 10 other people trapped on a beach by another blaze near the town of Gythio in the southern Peloponnese region.
Greek and EU officials blamed climate change for the multiple fires ravaging southern Europe, from southern Italy to the Balkans, via 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. The LaPresse news agency said they died from smoke inhalation.
Massive fires have been burning for weeks in Siberia in northern Russia, in hot, dry, gusty weather also fueled devastating California wildfires.
Greece was hit by its most prolonged heat wave in three decades, with temperatures reaching 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit), although it was cooler on Friday.
At least 20 people have been treated for injuries. Two firefighters were in intensive care in Athens, while two others were hospitalized with minor burns.
More than 1,000 firefighters and nearly 20 planes are now battling major fires across Greece, as additional firefighters, planes, helicopters and vehicles arrived from France, Switzerland, Romania, Cyprus, Croatia , Israel and Sweden.
The US embassy in Athens said on Friday that US naval forces in Europe will provide a P-8 aerial reconnaissance aircraft to support Greece’s firefighting efforts.
In Turkey, authorities evacuated six other neighborhoods near the town of Milas in Mugla province on Friday as a windswept forest fire burned about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from a power plant. Two other neighborhoods were also evacuated as a precaution later in the day as another fire spread from the Yatagan area of ââMugla to the edge of neighboring Aydin province further north.
At least 36,000 people were evacuated to safety in Mugla province alone, officials said.
Excavators formed firewalls to keep out flames at the Yenikoy Power Plant, the second such facility under threat in the area.
The forest fires near the tourist resort of Marmaris, also in Mugla, were largely contained on Thursday evening, while by Friday afternoon the two main fires in neighboring Antalya province were under control.
In Greece, the Athens fire interrupted traffic on the main highway connecting the capital to the north of the country and damaged electrical installations. The electricity distribution company announced gradual cuts in the wider capital region to protect the power grid.
In the Drosopigi area, a resident of Giorgos Hatzispiros examined the damage to his house on Friday morning, the first time he saw it after being ordered to evacuate the previous afternoon. Only the charred walls of the single storey house remained, along with her children’s bicycles, somehow unscathed in a storage room. Inside, smoke rose from a still smoking library.
“There is nothing left,” Hatzispiros said.
In the southern Peloponnese region, dozens of villages and settlements were evacuated and a fire was stopped before reaching the monuments of Olympia, cradle of the ancient Olympic Games.
The fires also disrupted COVID-19 vaccinations. The Ministry of Health announced the suspension of vaccinations in centers in areas affected by the fires.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised address Thursday that the forest fires show “the reality of climate change”.
In 2018, more than 100 people died when a rapid forest fire engulfed a seaside settlement east of Athens.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Elena Becatoros in Argostoli, Greece, Mehmet Guzel in Mugla, Turkey, and Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed.
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