New wildfires trigger evacuation of thousands of homes in Greece and Spain as brutal heatwave continues to ravage southern Europe
- Two blazes broke out in the Keratea and Vilia areas close to Athens, while nearly 1,000 have been evacuated around Avila in central Spain
- The region’s mayor said authorities are looking into reports of suspected arson
- The fires are the latest in a series of blazes that have killed dozens and forced thousands to evacuate their homes across southern Europe in recent weeks
- The heatwave has brought temperatures of up to 122 Fahrenheit (50 degrees C)
- Experts believe the area will be hit by more extreme weather due to climate change
Severe wildfires broke out in Greece on Monday, triggering evacuation alerts for villages southeast and northwest of the Greek capital as strong winds fanned a pair of blazes.
The first blaze, which broke out in the morning in the Keratea region southeast of Athens, quickly burned through shrubland and is headed toward a national park in the Sounion area.
Three communities were ordered evacuated, while some residents and volunteers armed with hoses and branches joined 91 firefighters, six water-dropping planes and six helicopters to combat the fires.
Dimitris Loukas, the mayor of the Lavreiotiki region which encompasses the area where the fire broke out, told Greek television that arson was suspected as the cause.
Sweltering temperatures across southern Europe have given rise to temperatures of up to 122 Farhenheit (50 degrees C) and triggered horrific fires across Greece, Turkey, Spain and Algeria in recent weeks, killing dozens and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.
Spanish authorities were forced to evacuate nearly 1,000 people from their homes on Monday to protect them from a wildfire that has destroyed at least 12,000 hectares (29,652 acres) of land since Saturday.
91 firefighters, six water-dropping planes and six helicopters have been deployed to the Lavreiotiki region were the fires began
Volunteers and some residents of evacuated communities stayed to combat the fires alongside the firemen
Some volunteers were armed with hoses, but many were forced to resort to using only branches to battle the blaze
The fires in recent weeks have stretched Greece’s response capacity to the limit as authorities were forced to direct firefighting teams to several areas at once
Loukas said Greek authorities are looking into accounts from local residents who reported seeing someone in a car setting a dumpster on fire in the area before driving quickly away.
On the other side of the capital, to the northwest, another blaze broke out in the Vilia area, triggering an evacuation alert for three other villages. Strong winds were predicted to last until at least the evening, potentially hampering the firefighting effort.
More than 60 firefighters there were being supported by eight water-dropping planes and five helicopters.
Greece has been ravaged by hundreds of wildfires this month amid the country’s most severe heat wave in decades, which left its forests tinder dry.
Tens of thousands of hectares of forest and farmland have been destroyed and thousands were forced to evacuate their homes, many of which were destroyed by the blaze.
One volunteer firefighter has died and four other firefighters have been hospitalized, including two in critical condition with burns, as the fires stretch Greece’s response capabilities to the limit.
Around two dozen European and Mideast countries sent firefighters, helicopters, planes and vehicles to help combat the existing fires, but many of them had left by Monday when the two most recent fires broke out.
Around 40 Austrian firefighters remain in the southern Greek region of the Peloponnese, where major fires have been burning for several days.
Greece has been forced to rely on international aid to battle the fires, but many of them had left prior to the latest outbreak of two new blazes on Monday
Several Mediterranean countries have suffered intense heat and quickly spreading wildfires in recent weeks, which many experts are putting down to the effects of climate change
Several Mediterranean countries have suffered intense heat and quickly spreading wildfires in recent weeks, including Turkey, where at least 16 people have died, and Italy, which saw several deaths. In Algeria, wildfires in the mountainous Berber region have killed at least 69 people.
Worsening drought and heat have also fueled wildfires this summer in the western United States and in Russia’s northern Siberia region. In all of Russia, some 15 million acres have burned this year.
Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme weather events.
A thousand people were evacuated and more than 5,000 hectares burned from 11am in Spain on Monday
Flames have ravaged over 25 miles of land near Avila in central Spain as the country battles a savage heatwave across the Iberian peninsula
Spain saw its highest temperature on record on Saturday as a heatwave on the Iberian peninsula drove the mercury to 117.3 Fahrenheit (47.4 degrees C)
A UN draft report has warned that the Mediterranean region, which it called a ‘climate change hotspot,’ will be hit by fiercer heatwaves, droughts and fires supercharged by rising temperatures, according to AFP.
Hundreds of people have been evacuated in both countries as temperatures hover between 104 to 113 Fahrenheit.
Two major fires that began in early August, one on the island of Evia and another in a national park north of Athens, were still smoldering Monday, with firefighters deployed to secure their perimeters.
The fire on the island of Evia is thought to be Greece’s most destructive, having destroyed over half a million acres of land and several thousands homes.
The extent of the destruction was so great that images from EU weather satellites clearly display the raging fires that stretch from one side of Evia island to the other.
Satellite images have revealed the full extent of the damage on the island of Evia, with scorch marks stretching the width of the island as flames raced coast-to-coast through tinder-dry woodland
The image captured by the EU weather satellite clearly shows the fires stretching across the breadth of the island
The fires prompted Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to declare ‘a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions’ last week, pointing to climate change as the cause of the disaster.
‘We did what was humanly possible, but in many cases it was not enough,’ he said, while apologising for ‘any shortcomings’ on the part of the state, whose actions have been criticised as inadequate.
‘Because of the unprecedented heatwave and prolonged drought, (the fires) are hard to extinguish’.
The widespread damage suffered by Greece ‘blackens everyone’s hearts’, Mitsotakis said, while promising compensation for victims, a reforesting campaign, and millions of Euros to bolstering the country’s defences against natural disasters.
Mass evacuations have been conducted in Greece with ferries taking residents away from island homes destroyed by the fires
Panayiota Noumidi, 81, who was forced to evacuate her home on the island of Evia, has become a symbol for climate change activists
GREECE: Flames rise high in the sky near the Greek village of Kirinthos, on the island of Evia as firefighters block the road
His statement came just days after the UN published a damning report warning the world is already experiencing the effects of climate changes – and that they are set to get rapidly worse.
It highlighted how scientists are quantifying the extent to which human-induced warming increases the intensity and/or likelihood of a specific extreme weather event, such as a heatwave, drought, or a wildfire.
Scientists had expected temperatures to rise by 1.5C above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052 but now believe it will happen between this year and 2040 – the bombshell report dubbed a ‘code red for humanity’ warned.
The world’s largest ever report into climate change also said it was ‘unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land’.
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