A historic heat wave in southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean hits regions of Greece, Turkey, Italy, North Macedonia and Bulgaria, among other countries, and fuels the forest fires of recent days. On Wednesday, authorities reported that flames were closing in on Athens and threatening the birthplace of the Olympics while prompting mass evacuations.
Southeastern Europe burns with average temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius. The historic heat wave and strong winds have spread different foci of forest fires in several countries.
Greece woke up the alarms this Wednesday, when the authorities reported that the flames were approaching Athens and threatened the ruins of Olympia, the place of origin of the Olympic Games, where they have been held every four years since 776 BC. C., for more than a millennium.
Hundreds of residents of the villages near the archaeological site, in the western region of the Peloponnese, received the evacuation order. Meanwhile, around 160 firefighters and water bombers arrived to try to save the historic sanctuaries.
“We are doing everything possible to save this sacred place (…) After human lives, our priority is to save our history,” said Panagiotis Antonakopoulos, mayor of the nearby town of Pirgos.
The site, where the Olympic flame begins its journey to the city that is home to the modern Olympics, is one of the nation’s most popular tourist attractions and was already threatened by fire in 2007.
Meanwhile, on the island of Evia, near Athens, coast guard rescue boats picked up about 90 people stranded on a beach when a wildfire engulfed the surrounding pine forests and filled the sky with thick smoke.
Local media reported that three firefighters were burned and several houses and swaths of forest were destroyed.
“It was burning all night. The forest was destroyed, the villages were burned. We left our houses behind, we left our pets,” said Christina Katsini, a resident of the affected area.
In total, weather conditions have fueled more than 150 forest fires in different areas of Greece since last week and the fire has already swept through swaths of forests and buildings in various areas.
In the last 24 hours there were more than 118 deflagrations, according to the head of Civil Protection, Nikos Hardalias: “We continue to fight a titanic battle on many fronts (…) The next few days will be more difficult,” says Hardalias.
Scientists in the country indicated that in just the first three days of August the destruction by fires exceeded 50% of the average area burned in the nation during all the months of previous years.
A report from the Athens Observatory reported that approximately 6,000 hectares of forest went up in smoke between Sunday and Wednesday, compared to 10,400 hectares destroyed in all of 2020.
High temperatures have led to the spread of fires. In Greece alone, the 45-degree temperature reached on August 4 was described by authorities as the worst heat wave since 1987. Neighboring countries face similar conditions.
The situation worsens in Turkey and other countries in Southeastern Europe
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan assured that the forest deflagrations, against which his country’s firefighters have been fighting since the end of July, are “worse than ever.”
“This year’s fires had never happened in our history (…) This is the largest (outbreak),” said the president.
#UPDATE A thermal power plant and its surrounding town on the Aegean Sea were being evacuated as a deadly wildfire that has ravaged Turkey for the past week engulfed its outer edge https://t.co/A2CsucJiOt
– AFP News Agency (@AFP) August 4, 2021
This Wednesday the flames spread to a power plant in the southwest of the nation, after strips of coastal forest were reduced to ash.
More than a week after the first outbreaks of fire broke out on Turkish soil, 16 were still burning this Wednesday, according to the Minister of Forests.
Encouraged by high temperatures and a strong, dry wind, the fires have forced thousands of Turks and tourists to flee their homes and hotels near the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. Eight people have died from the flames since last week.
The fires in Turkey have burned more than three times the affected area in an average year, explained a European fire agency. Neighboring countries have also battled fires fueled by heat waves and high winds.
The storm has caused deaths, massive evacuations, the destruction of hundreds of homes and thousands of hectares of vegetation in several nations of southeastern Europe and the entire Mediterranean region.
Against this backdrop, a European Union (EU) disaster response group dispatched firefighters and water-launch aircraft to Italy, Greece, Albania and North Macedonia.
“Following the situation with great concern. European solidarity is working to combat these terrible fires,” published the president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on her Twitter account.
The EU Atmosphere Monitoring Service said plumes of smoke from the region’s wildfires were clearly visible through satellite imagery, including the intensity of the wildfires in Turkey, which are at their highest level since records on this matter began in 2003.
With Reuters, AP and EFE