Firefighters fight fires as Greece faces ‘worst heat wave’ in three decades

Firefighters battled two major wildfires in Greece on Monday, as the prime minister said the country was experiencing its worst heat wave in more than three decades.

Fires also raged in Turkey, Spain and Italy this weekend, with experts warning that climate change was increasing both the frequency and intensity of such fires.

More than 3,000 hectares of pine and olive groves have been set ablaze by a fire that broke out Saturday near the city of Patras, 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Athens, according to the National Observatory of Athens citing the EU satellite images .

And authorities rushed to reinforce crews fighting a fire on the island of Rhodes near Turkey.

“We are facing the worst heat wave since 1987,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, adding that authorities were “doing everything” to deal with the situation.

After meeting with electricity suppliers, he warned that the relentless heat was straining the electricity grid and asked Greeks to limit their consumption in the early afternoon and at night.

Deputy Civil Defense Minister Nikos Hardalias said there had been 1,584 fires in Greece in July, compared to 953 in 2019, and there had been 116 new fires in the past 24 hours.

“We’re no longer talking about climate change, we’re talking about a climate threat,” he told Star TV.

The fire at Patras was not completely under control on Monday, the country’s weather service reported to ANA news agency.

And temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) have been forecast for nearby areas, posing new risks to land already parched from the heat wave.

Officials have evacuated five villages and a coastal town and eight people have been hospitalized with burns and breathing problems.

Help sent to Rhodes

However, officials were optimistic that a fire on the island of Rhodes, near the Turkish coast, was lurking after more firefighters and resources were deployed overnight.

“Dawn likes Rhodes much better than the day before,” South Aegean governor George Hatzimarkos said in a statement.

He added that the fronts of the fire were retreating and “almost under control”.

More than 100 firefighters, aided by 20 vehicles, three planes and six helicopters, were dispatched to Rhodes Monday morning, officials said.

Dozens more firefighters and 14 vehicles from Athens would arrive later in the day.

Firefighters evacuated a central area on the island known as “the Butterfly Valley” on Sunday, which is popular with hikers and tourists.

Temperatures between 40 and 42 degrees Celsius are forecast for the island in the coming days, with the heat wave expected to reach its peak on Monday and Tuesday.

Nearby Turkey is suffering its worst fires in at least a decade, killing eight people and forcing hundreds to evacuate in southern areas popular with tourists.

(AFP)

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