In a devastating turn of events, a wildfire near the Turkish border in Greece has been responsible for the deaths of 20 out of the 21 wildfire-related fatalities in the country. The fire, which has been burning for 10 days, shows no signs of abating, prompting Greek authorities to reinforce firefighting forces in the northeastern part of the country.
The blaze, located in the Alexandroupolis and Evros areas near the Turkish border, has been blamed for the deaths of 20 individuals who tragically lost their lives last week. To combat the flames, the Greek fire department has deployed 474 firefighters, supported by 100 vehicles, seven planes, and two helicopters. This firefighting force includes reinforcements from several European countries.
As the investigation into the cause of the fire continues, massive tracts of forest have been destroyed, homes have been scorched, and thousands of people have been evacuated. The bodies of 18 individuals were discovered near the city of Alexandroupolis on Tuesday, another body was found in the region's forest on Monday, and a third body was found on Thursday. These victims are believed to be migrants who recently crossed the nearby border with Turkey. To identify the remains, Greece's Disaster Victim Identification Unit has been activated.
Additionally, in a separate incident in central Greece, a man lost his life while attempting to protect his livestock from advancing flames. This tragedy serves as a somber reminder of the dangers posed by these wildfires.
The scale of the wildfire is immense, having charred more than 190,000 acres of land, making it one of the largest single fires ever to have struck a European country. The European Union's Copernicus Emergency Management Service, which uses satellite imagery to provide mapping data, reported this alarming statistic on Sunday.
Although the situation at another major fire on Mount Parnitha, located on the northwestern fringes of Athens, appeared to be improving on Monday, it was not yet officially under control. A total of 260 firefighters, supported by 77 vehicles, one plane, and one helicopter, were still battling flare-ups in the region. This fire had already destroyed homes and entered a national park, posing a threat to one of the last green areas near the Greek capital.
Greece has experienced a surge in daily wildfires over the past week due to gale-force winds and hot, dry summer conditions. On Monday alone, firefighters were tackling 74 active wildfires, with 27 of them having broken out in the previous 24 hours, according to the fire department. Some of these blazes are suspected to be the result of arson, leading to several arrests.
To combat these unprecedented challenges, Greece has requested assistance from other European countries. Germany, Sweden, Croatia, and Cyprus have sent aircraft, while firefighters from Romania, France, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Albania, Slovakia, and Serbia are providing assistance on the ground.
In a disturbing development, two individuals were arrested on Saturday for allegedly intentionally setting fires. One man was apprehended on the island of Evia after confessing to setting fire to dried grass in the Karystos area. He admitted to setting four other fires in the region in the previous months. The second individual was arrested in the Larissa area of central Greece, accused of deliberately setting fire to dried vegetation. Officials have attributed arson as the cause of several fires in the country.
The Greek government has expressed outrage over these deliberate acts, with Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias condemning the actions as "despicable and criminal." Kikilias revealed that nine fires were set in the Avlona area, near Mount Parnitha, over a span of four hours on Thursday morning. In response, he warned the perpetrators that they would be held accountable for their crimes.
Despite the challenges posed by these wildfires, there was some relief as storms were forecasted for certain areas of Greece on Saturday. Although lightning strikes ignited several fires near the Greek capital, the fire department was able to bring them under control with the assistance of 100 firefighters, four helicopters, and contingents from France and Cyprus.
However, the Evros fire, which has claimed the most lives, continues to burn. This is Greece's largest ongoing blaze, having lasted for eight days near the city of Alexandroupolis. On Saturday, evacuation orders were issued for three villages in the area. The fire department, consisting of over 290 firefighters, five planes, and two helicopters, is working tirelessly to contain the fire. Similarly, the Mount Parnitha fire is being battled by 260 firefighters, four planes, and three helicopters.
Another fire broke out on the Cycladic island of Andros on Saturday, leading to the evacuation of a village. This fire is suspected to have been started by a lightning strike.
The Greek government has urged the public to exercise caution and follow the directions of authorities due to intense thunderstorm activity occurring throughout the country.
The wildfires in Greece have caused widespread devastation, claiming lives, destroying homes, and decimating vast areas of forest. As the investigation into the cause of these fires continues, the priority remains on extinguishing the flames and protecting the lives of those affected. The international support provided by European countries is critical in this time of crisis.