Great Britain

Thousands evacuated in Athens suburb as fires rage amid worst heatwave in 30 years

Thousands of people have been evacuated from Varibobi, a northeastern suburb of Athens and more than 100 homes and business have been destroyed as helicopters, planes and ground forces wrestle to bring a fire that started yesterday under control.

77 people have been transferred to the hospital with respiratory problems according to state officials and winds are expected to increase on Wednesday afternoon as the fire continues to burn through Varibobi and the pine forest of Parnitha.

Meanwhile Greece’s coast guard were with evacuations on the island of Evia, where residents escaping wildfires had fled to a beach for safety.

Thousands of wildlife animals are said to have burnt in the fire. Yesterday, dozens of horses were in the streets of Varibobi as owners of the area’s four horse farms couldn’t evacuate them. A few hours later, many of them were transferred to a safe farm.

A thick cloud of smoke has covered the Greek capital, as the wildfire has been burning for more than 24 hours. The National Observatory of Athens advised locals and visitors to stay indoors, due to the high concentration of microparticles in the air.

The northeastern suburbs of Athens were severely affected last winter when a cold weather front with lots of snow and low temperatures, named Medea, left hundreds of homes without electricity and water for a whole week.

Locals, like 71-year-old Yannis Paraskevopoulos who used to walk in the forest daily, believe the trees and branches that had fallen on the ground due to the heavy snowfall became the perfect fuel for this fire.

“We were lucky that our house wasn’t burnt because at the last minute the direction of the wind changed,” Paraskevopoulos explains. “We got a text message ordering us to evacuate. We left, but a few hours later we returned back with my son and took turns sleeping.”

The situation has been made worse with temperatures rising to 44 and 45 degrees Celsius, some of the highest temperatures in Europe. The region is experiencing one of the longest heat waves in 30 years. The heatwave is expected to last until the end of the week, but a new one is expected on Monday.

Since yesterday, 41 fires have started across Greece with the biggest ones in the regions of Kalamata, Mani, Evia island, and Ancient Olympia. Homes are currently burning in Evia and Ancient Olympia and according to reports from Greek media there are people trapped by the fire.

Outside Athens, thousands of olive trees and other farms have been destroyed. Homes were left without electricity and water supply due to the fire. Authorities say it’ll take days to restore the damages.

A fireffighter plane battles against the fires in the area of Varympompi in Acharnes, north of Athens

After a decade of austerity, due to the economic crisis that started in 2008, the Greek fire department has been left understaffed and unequipped, while forest roads used by fire trucks in case of an emergency aren’t maintained.

Nearby Turkey is also experiencing the worst wildfires in a decade.

According to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service - the European Union’s Earth observation programme, all of “Southeast Europe [is] currently experiencing heatwave conditions, [and] the fire danger remains high in the area, especially across much of Turkey and around the Mediterranean.”

CAMS data show that the daily total Fire Radiative Power (RFP) for Turkey has reached unprecedented values in the entire dataset, which goes back to 2003.

The Copernicus data shows the emissions and intensity of wildfires are rapidly increasing, and not only Turkey and Greece, but also Morocco, Albania, North Macedonia and Lebanon, are affected.

An EU disaster response group said assistance, including firefighters and water-dropping planes, were being sent from EU members to Italy, Greece, Albania and North Macedonia.

“Following the situation with great concern. European solidarity is at work to fight these terrible fires,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote in a tweet.

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