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Hundreds of families homeless as Greek fires rage, Turkey saved by the rain

AFP logo AFP 8/7/2021 AFP
Outskirts of Athens evacuated as fire rages © Will VASSILOPOULOS Outskirts of Athens evacuated as fire rages

Hundreds of firefighters fought fires that have devoured record numbers of woodlands in Greece Saturday and left hundreds of families homeless, but heavy rains brought some respite to hard-hit Turkey.

More than 1,450 Greek firefighters backed by at least 15 aircraft were battling the wildfires and flare-ups, with reinforcements arriving from other countries, the fire service said.

"We are sending a team of experienced firefighters to support Greek firefighters currently battling the huge blazes," UK Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted Saturday.

Egypt is also expected to send two helicopters and Spain one Canadair firefighting plane. 

With strong winds and temperatures of up to 38 degrees C (100 F) forecast in some regions on Saturday, the blazes in Greece are expected to continue for some time yet. And this year's fires have already been far more destructive than in previous years.

a lot of smoke around it: The blazes are set to continue with strong winds and high temperatures forecast © Sotiris DIMITROPOULOS The blazes are set to continue with strong winds and high temperatures forecast

In the last 10 days, 56,655 hectares (140,000 acres) have been burnt in Greece, according to the European Forest Fire Information System. The average number of hectares burnt over the same period between 2008 and 2020 was 1,700 hectares.

a man sitting in a dark room: In Turkey, eight people have been killed and dozens more hospitalised © Yasin AKGUL In Turkey, eight people have been killed and dozens more hospitalised

"When this nightmarish summer ends we will reverse the damage as soon as possible," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pledged on Saturday.

In Pefkofyto, in the north of Athens, pensioner Tasos Tsilivakos struggled to contain his tears.

"This is a horrible disaster," he told AFP.

"I'm really afraid that maybe only our great-grand children will have the chance to walk again in these areas."

One 62-year-old man from nearby Agios Stefanos told Alpha TV how after being evacuated he had had to watch his house burning on television. "My child is still crying from the shock," he said.

a group of palm trees on the side of a snow covered mountain: The fires across Greece have devastated thousands of hectares of woodland © ANGELOS TZORTZINIS The fires across Greece have devastated thousands of hectares of woodland

- Rains help Turkey -

Greece and Turkey have been fighting devastating fires for more than a week as the region suffers its worst heatwave in decades. Officials and experts have linked such intense weather events to climate change.


Video: Wildfires rage in Turkey as more tourists evacuated from resorts (Dailymotion)

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So far, they have killed two people in Greece and eight in Turkey, with dozens more hospitalised there during 10 days of the blazes.

A UN draft report seen by AFP labelled the Mediterranean region a "climate change hotspot", warning that heatwaves, droughts and fires would become more fierce in the future, supercharged by rising temperatures.

But the weather gave Turkey some relief Saturday.

Officials in the Turkish coastal city of Antalya said the blazes were under control in the southwestern province after rainfall there.

And heavy rainfall was expected to continue until the afternoon in areas including Manavgat, one of the most affected by the fires.

The situation remained serious however around the tourist hotspot of Mugla, where at least three neighbourhoods have been ordered to evacuate.

There have been over 200 fires in 47 of Turkey's 81 provinces, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli tweeted early on Saturday. Thirteen of those fires in five provinces are still burning.

- Fears of more high winds -

Greek Civil Protection deputy minister, Nikos Hardalias said Saturday that 55 blazes were raging across Greece.

They were burning on Evia, the country's second largest island, which lies east of the capital; in the Peloponnese region in the southwest; and in Fthiotida in Central Greece.

The fire front on Evia alone ran across 30 kilometres (18 miles) long, said Fanis Spanos, regional governor of Central Greece. 

On the north of the island, another 23 were evacuated Saturday morning after 1,300 were plucked off the beaches by ferry boats the night before. Navy warships were on high alert off the coast in case more evacuations required. 

a plane flying in the air with smoke coming out of it: Firefighting airplanes and helicopters have joined the battle to contain the fires © Louisa GOULIAMAKI Firefighting airplanes and helicopters have joined the battle to contain the fires

In the Attica peninsula the situation was "more stable" as there were no strong wind in the area. 

a large mountain in the background: While heavy rains gave Turkey some respite, they too have lost vast swathes of woodland © Yasin AKGUL While heavy rains gave Turkey some respite, they too have lost vast swathes of woodland

Meanwhile officials reopened part of a motorway linking Athens to the north of the country.

Central Greece regional governor Fanis Spanos told the Athens News Agency (ANA) that more than 300 families whose homes had been burned down were being sheltered in hotels.

a close up of a pond: Fires around the outskirts of Athens also caused extensive damage © ANGELOS TZORTZINIS Fires around the outskirts of Athens also caused extensive damage

And the situation remained dire in Mani, in the Peloponnese, where 5,000 people were evacuated Friday. 

Eleni Drakoulakou, the mayor of East Mani, told ERT TV on Saturday that half the municipality had been destroyed by the flames. She blamed a lack of water-dropping air support during the critical first hours of the wildfire. 

In Ilia, in western Peloponnese, more villages were evacuated. 

ANA meanwhile reported that two people had been charged for arson: a woman was arrested in Athens Friday carrying two lighters, petrol and flammable material, just after a fire broke out there.

Also Friday, a 43-year-old man was arrested in Krioneri, northern Attica.

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