Athens: Rain overnight in wildfire-ravaged areas of Greece has helped “improve the situation” on Thursday, a local mayor said, but hundreds of firefighters were still battling to contain new flare-ups.
Fires fanned by Greece’s most severe heatwave in decades - which authorities have blamed on climate change - have burnt through nearly 100,000 hectares over the last fortnight, leaving three dead, hundreds homeless, thousands forced to evacuate, and economic and environmental devastation in their wake.
“The fire fronts are still active” on the island of Evia and the Arcadia region of the Peloponnese peninsula and “fires are constantly flaring up” in both areas, a firefighting official told AFP.
And a new fire broke out on Thursday morning in a forested area of Aspropyrgos, 20 kilometres northwest of Athens.
After weeks of punishing temperatures often well over 40 degrees Celsius, a lower 33 degrees Celsius was forecast for Thursday.
The falling temperatures and overnight rain in Evia, the Peloponnese and central Greece had helped “improve the situation,” said Stathis Koulis, the mayor of Gortynia.
The village of Gortynia in a mountainous area of Arcadia 200 kilometres west of Athens has become the primary focus in the Peloponnese, with deep ravines posing a challenge to firefighters.
Twenty villages have been evacuated in the area over the past few days and 680 firefighters, including more than a hundred sent to help from France, and five water-dropping aircraft have been relentlessly battling the flames.
Greek firefighters have been bolstered by more than 1,200 reinforcements from numerous countries particularly in Europe, as well as vehicles and equipment.
In just eight days, 568 fires have been recorded across Greece.
‘Can’t take it anymore’
Nearly 100,000 hectares of forests and farmland have burned since July 29 in Greece’s worst wildfires since 2007, the European Forest Fire Information System said.
“I can’t take it anymore,” said Kostis Angelou as he wandered between the corpses of his goats, all 372 of them burnt by a fire that devoured forests on Evia.
The 44-year-old farmer managed to survive by spending hours under an irrigation water pipe, surrounded by flames.
“A saint saved me,” he said.
The Mediterranean has been hit by a savage fire season, with Algeria announcing three days of national mourning starting Thursday for the 69 dead killed in blazes there.
Italy has also been hit by fires, and the island of Sicily recorded 48.8 degrees Celsius on Wednesday, which if confirmed would be a new European record, beating Greece’s previous high.
Eight people were killed in fires in Turkey’s south earlier in the month, while in the north the death toll rose to five on Thursday from flash floods that have swept across several Black Sea regions.
The latest extreme weather events come after a “code red” report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was published on Monday warning that the world is warming far faster than previously feared.
The Mediterranean has been singled out as a “climate change hotspot”, with increasing temperatures and aridity lengthening fire seasons and doubling the areas potential burnt, according to draft IPCC assessment seen exclusively by AFP.