On 23 August, firefighters struggled to contain uncontrolled fires throughout Greece for a fifth day. Several of them bordered on an acrid, smoke-filled Athens. The news comes just one month after the Greek island of Corfu saw mass evacuations due to wildfires.
One fire fanned by strong winds ripped through the foothills of Mount Parnitha, the largest forest adjoining the capital, burning near the outskirts of a national park. Civil protection minister Vassilis Kikilias told a news conference:
The European Commission said 246 firefighters, 40 vehicles, and eight aircraft from eight member states had been sent to help.
Evacuations were ordered on the morning of 23 August for several settlements on the outskirts of the capital. These included three nursing homes and a migrant detention centre. The blaze damaged homes in the northwestern Athens district of Menidi, and briefly threatened an army camp.
Fires have already destroyed homes and properties in the nearby suburbs of Hasia and Fyli. Another fire in Boeotia, north of Athens, came perilously close to a UNESCO-listed Byzantine monastery.
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Greek firefighters have battled over 350 fires over the last five days, including over 200 in the last 48 hours. Nearly a hundred were currently unchecked, according to the fire service.
Fire department spokesman Yiannis Artopios said 140 people had been arrested on suspicion of arson, most of it accidental. Most cases were related to welding and agricultural work that ignored high-risk weather warnings.
Minister Kikilias said the country was going through the worst summer of fires since fire-risk maps were introduced in 2009. He noted that the number of fire emergency warnings issued this year were:
twice as many as in 2021, four times those of 2019 and seven times those of 2012.
Unfounded rumours and allegations have also been spreading rapidly on social media blaming migrants for responsibility for the outbreak of the fires.
On 23 August, Greece’s supreme court prosecutor ordered local officials to investigate both the causes of the catastrophic fire and claims of racism towards migrants. Greek authorities arrested three people in northern Greece who had forced undocumented migrants into a cargo trailer, accusing them of being responsible for the fires.
Twenty people have been killed in this week’s wildfire wave. Eighteen people including two children were found dead Tuesday in a forest fire near the Turkish border, north of Alexandroupolis. As no local residents had been reported missing, fire department spokesman Yiannis Artopios speculated that they could also be undocumented migrants. Another person believed to be a migrant was found dead in a nearby forest on Monday.
Over 40,000 hectares (nearly 99,000 acres) were destroyed in wildfires in just three days from August 19 to 21, according to a report by the National Observatory of Athens. According to meteorologists, the extremely hot and dry conditions which increase the fire risk will persist until Friday.
Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse
Featured image via Youtube/The Guardian.
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