Wildfires threaten the ruins of Olympus in Greece and spread to southeastern Europe

A historic heatwave in southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean is hitting parts of Greece, Turkey, Italy, North Macedonia and Bulgaria, among other countries, and fueling wildfires there. last days. On Wednesday, authorities reported that the flames were approaching Athens and threatening the birthplace of the Olympics while prompting mass evacuations.

Southeastern Europe is on fire with average temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius. The historic heat wave and strong winds have spread different sources of wildfires to several countries.

Greece sounded the alarm on Wednesday, when authorities reported flames were approaching Athens and threatening the ruins of Olympia, the original location of the Olympics, where they have been held every four years since 776 BC. . C., for more than a millennium.

General view of smoke rising from a wildfire from Kifisia, a northern suburb of Athens, Greece, August 3, 2021. © Chormovitis/Via Reuters

Hundreds of residents of villages near the archaeological site, in the western Peloponnese region, have been ordered to evacuate. Meanwhile, about 160 firefighters and water bombers arrived to try to save the historic shrines.

“We are doing everything we can to save this sacred place… After human lives, our priority is to save our history,” said the mayor of the nearby town of Pyrgos, Panagiotis Antonakopoulos.

The site, where the Olympic flame begins its journey to the city that hosts the modern Olympics, is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions and was once threatened by fire in 2007.

Meanwhile, on the island of Evia, near Athens, coastguard rescue boats rescued around 90 people stranded on a beach as a wildfire engulfed the surrounding pine forests and filled the sky with thick smoke.

Local media reported that three firefighters were burned and several houses and swaths of forest were destroyed.

“It burned all night. The forest was destroyed, the villages were set on fire. We left our homes behind, we left our pets behind,” said Christina Katsini, a resident of the affected area.

A man sprays water on a burning factory during a forest fire in the village of Rovies, on the island of Evia, Greece, August 4, 2021.
A man sprays water on a burning factory during a forest fire in the village of Rovies, on the island of Evia, Greece, August 4, 2021. © Reuters/Costa Baltas

In total, the weather conditions have fueled more than 150 forest fires in different parts of Greece since last week and the blaze has already razed swathes of forests and buildings in various regions.

In the past 24 hours, there have been more than 118 explosions, according to the head of civil protection, Nikos Hardalias: “We continue to fight a titanic battle on many fronts (…) The next few days will be more difficult “, says Hardalias.

The country’s scientists said that in the first three days of August alone, fire destruction exceeded 50% of the average area burned in the country in all months in previous years.

A report by the Athens Observatory said around 6,000 hectares of forest went up in smoke between Sunday and Wednesday, compared to 10,400 hectares destroyed in 2020.

High temperatures caused the fires to spread. In Greece alone, the 45-degree temperature reached on August 4 was described by authorities as the worst heat wave since 1987. Neighboring countries are facing similar conditions.

The situation is getting worse in Turkey and other southeastern European countries

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has assured that the forest explosions, against which firefighters in his country have been fighting since the end of July, are “worse than ever”.

“This year’s fires have never happened in our history… This is the biggest (hearth),” the president said.

On Wednesday, flames spread to a power station in the southwest of the country, after swaths of coastal forest were burned to ashes.

More than a week after the first fires broke out on Turkish soil, 16 were still burning on Wednesday, according to the Forestry Ministry.

Fueled by high temperatures and a strong, dry wind, the fires have forced thousands of Turks and tourists to flee their homes and hotels near the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. Eight people have died in the flames since last week.

Fires in Turkey have scorched the affected area more than three times in an average year, a European fire agency said. Neighboring countries have also battled blazes fueled by heatwaves and strong winds.

The storm caused deaths, mass evacuations, the destruction of hundreds of homes and thousands of hectares of vegetation in various countries in southeastern Europe and throughout the Mediterranean region.

In this context, a European Union (EU) disaster response group sent firefighters and water-dropping planes to Italy, Greece, Albania and North Macedonia.

“Follow the situation with great concern. European solidarity is working to fight these terrible fires,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on her Twitter account.

The EU’s atmosphere monitoring service said smoke plumes from wildfires in the region were clearly visible through satellite imagery, including the intensity of wildfires in Turkey, which are at their highest level since records began on this issue in 2003.

With Reuters, AP and EFE

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