Brutal heat wave hits southern Europe

Kefalonia, Greece (CNN) — Extreme heat and wildfires continued to affect parts of southern Europe on Wednesday, a day after the maximum temperature in Greece reached 47.2 degrees Celsius, just below the highest on record in Europe.

Greece is facing one of its worst heat waves in decades and the country remains on high alert as it continues to battle fires across the country.

Heat advisories have also been issued for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Italy, Romania, Serbia and Turkey. Deadly wildfires have swept through parts of Turkey in recent days, forcing resort towns to evacuate.

Residents of the Greek capital Athens have been warned to stay indoors with their windows rolled up due to poor air quality after a wildfire raged through the capital’s northern suburbs on Tuesday. Extreme heat has forced the Culture Ministry to close the Acropolis and other ancient sites from noon to 5 p.m. this week.

A man cools off with water during a heat wave in Thessaloniki, Greece on July 29. (Photo: SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Greek firefighters said on Wednesday they had been called to respond to 78 wildfires in the past 24 hours. A fire on the large island of Euboea, northeast of Athens, was burning fiercely on Wednesday.

Wildfires also continued to burn in parts of Turkey on Tuesday, fueled by extreme heat. At least eight people died as a result of fires in Mugla and Antalya provinces on Tuesday, Turkish news agency Anadolu reported.

The heatwave in the region follows last week’s devastating fires in Spain, Greece and the Italian island of Sardinia, and less than a month after catastrophic flooding in northern Europe that left more than 200 dead.

Experts say extreme weather events like flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the recent heat wave and wildfires in Canada and the United States, are a sign of the impacts of climate change. .

Droughts are becoming more frequent and more severe in southern Europe, and environmental authorities have warned that the region is more exposed to the impacts of climate change on the continent.

CNN forecasters said the region’s current heat wave will last through at least Friday, with peak heat coming Tuesday and Wednesday for Greece. Temperatures were expected to be 10 degrees above average again on Wednesday, at over 40 degrees Celsius, in Greece and western Turkey.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), a program of the European Union, said on Wednesday that the Mediterranean region was becoming a “wildfire hotspot” and warned that fires already lit were emitting large amounts smoke in the atmosphere.

Residents watch as a Greek army Chinook helicopter collects water as firefighters continue to tackle a wildfire near the Greek village of Lambiri on Sunday.

“In Turkey and southern Italy, CAMS data shows that emissions and intensity of wildfires are increasing rapidly, with countries including Morocco, Albania, Greece, North Macedonia and Lebanon also affected,” he said in a statement.

“Smoke plumes from the fires are clearly visible in satellite images crossing the eastern Mediterranean basin from southern Turkey.”

“Extremely difficult fire”

In Greece, more than 200 places reached 40 degrees Celsius on Tuesday. The maximum temperature of 47.2°C, recorded at Langadas in Thessaloniki, was within a degree of the all-time European record of 48°C recorded in Athens, Greece, in 1977.

The Greek meteorological service warned that the risk of fire remained very high on Wednesday and Thursday. “The prolonged hot conditions prevalent in our country have increased the flammability of dead fuel to extremely high levels across much of the territory, making any use of fire extremely dangerous,” he said.

The blaze on the outskirts of Athens is largely under control, but fears remain over its recurrence, authorities say.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday that no lives had been lost and the emergency evacuation system had worked. He stressed that the next few days will be crucial due to the heat wave and that everyone must remain vigilant.

Several residential areas were evacuated, according to Greek firefighters.

As the blaze spread north of the capital on Tuesday, authorities urged residents to leave the Athens suburbs of Varimpompi, Adames and Thrakomakedones, as well as the Olympic Village. The fire also threatened the Tatoi Royal Palace.

Firefighters also battled heavy blazes on the Greek islands of Kos and Evia, as well as the Peloponnese peninsula, as some residents evacuated.

“The hours are critical and the conditions we face are extremely dangerous,” Greek Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said on Tuesday. “Our country is experiencing an extreme weather event in recent days, one of the worst heat waves in 40 years.”

Briefing reporters on the Athens-area fire on Wednesday, Hardalias said an early estimate was that 76 homes and 27 businesses were badly damaged. More than 70 people have been hospitalized with respiratory problems since Tuesday, Greek Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias added.

Brutal heatwave scorches southern Europe as continent's summer of severe weather progresses

A man leads his cattle away from a raging fire August 2 in Mugla, Marmaris district, as the European Union sends aid to Turkey and volunteers join the fire service. (Photo: YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images)

“European solidarity”

The European Commission said it was working around the clock to mobilize support for firefighting operations in the worst affected countries. Two firefighting planes were to be sent from France to affected areas in Italy on Wednesday, he said in a press release, and two firefighting planes from Cyprus are supporting Greece.

The Netherlands and the Czech Republic are sending helicopters to Albania and Slovenia is deploying 45 firefighters to North Macedonia, he added.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that she was following the situation with great concern. “European solidarity is working to fight these terrible fires. We are with you,” he said.

According to the European Commission’s Emergency Response Coordination Center (ERCC), a series of forest fires are burning in eastern and northeastern North Macedonia, forcing the town of Kochani to be evacuated .

Albania has suffered more than 120 fires in recent weeks, following sustained high temperatures, with the Vlora region facing the most critical situation, the ERCC said.

A firefighter talks to his colleague as they work to put out the fires in Cugliari, near Oristano on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, Italy, July 26.

Italy’s farmers’ association, Coldiretti, said on Wednesday its analysis of fire data indicated that large fires had tripled in the summer of 2021 compared to the historical average from 2008 to 2020, causing millions of euros of environmental damage. , economy, labor and tourism.

The flames incinerated tens of thousands of hectares of Mediterranean forests and scrub across the country, he said, leaving behind dead animals and charred trees, olive groves and pastures, as well as areas threatening cities.

“The situation is very serious”

Meanwhile, Turkey was battling 11 fires in six provinces on Tuesday, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli tweeted on his official account.

A total of 152 fires in 32 provinces have been brought under control in Turkey over the past six days, he added.

Speaking at a government press conference in Marmaris, Pakdemirli said Marmaris district in Mugla province had experienced a record high temperature of 43.5 degrees Celsius with very low humidity (less than 10 percent ) and a wind speed of 65 kilometers per hour.

Firefighters battle a massive wildfire that engulfed a Mediterranean seaside region on Turkey’s southern coast near the town of Manavgat on July 29.

More than 2,000 houses were damaged in Antalya and another 347 in Mugla, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said at the press conference.

The mayor of Milas, a city in southwestern Turkey, said flames from ongoing fires reached near a power plant on Tuesday evening.

“The situation is very serious,” said the mayor, Muhammet Tokat. “The flames have approached a thermal power plant. If possible, an airplane or helicopter with night vision should be directed to the area immediately.”

CNN’s Chris Liakos reported from Kefalonia and Isil Sariyuce from Istanbul; while Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite, Taylor Ward, Monica Garrett and Livia Borghese contributed to this report.

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