Greek wildfires
(Photo montage T2G)

Devastating  wildfires rage across Greece

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Blazes are savaging Greece as a total of 209 wildfires broke out in the last 48 hours, state-run ANMA news agency reported on Wednesday (Aug. 23). Fifty-six firefighters arrived in the country from Romania on Tuesday (Aug. 22) and Athens was expecting further assistance from the Czech Republic, Croatia, Germany and Sweden, the Fire Brigade said.

Active fronts are still burning in the port city of Alexandroupolis in Evros regional unit and in foothills of Mount Parnitha on the outskirts of Athens. A satellite image broadcast on state TV showed that smoke from the Evros wildfires had drifted across the country to the Ionian islands.

Dozens of hospital patients were evacuated from the University hospital in Alexandroupolis onto a ferry on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the fire department announced firefighters had found the bodies of 18 people in the Avantas area near the large wooded Dadia national park, home to rare birds of prey.

Department spokesperson Ioannis Artopios said in a statement: “Given that there have been no reports of disappearances or missing residents from the surrounding areas, the possibility that these are people who entered the country illegally is being investigated.” Another two people were found dead on Monday (Aug. 22), one in northern Greece and another in a separate fire in central Greece.

In Alexandropoulis, 1,560 police officers evacuated preventatively 14,316 residents of 33 communities while in West Attica, 744 police officers rescued 188 people while they also evacuated preventatively residents of 6 communities. 

Fires are also burning on Evia and Kynthos islands, as well as Aspropyrgos, Makrakomi, Fthiotida, Boeotia, Thebes, Arcadia, Nafpaktia, Livadia, Kavala, Ano Drosini and Rhodope

The causes of the fires are still under investigation but arson has been suggested as a possibility in several cases.

“In my 32 years at the Fire Brigade, I have never experienced similar extreme conditions,” the chief of the Fire Brigade, Lieutenant General Georgios Pournaras, said at a briefing at the Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Ministry on Wednesday.

It follows last month’s weeks of fires raging across a number of islands, including Rhodes in South Aegean, where more than 20,000 foreign tourists were evacuated as a result in what Greek officials said was the largest evacuation effort in the country’s history.  In Corfu, last month’s fires were mainly focused on the north-eastern areas of the Ionian island. These have now been put out.

More than 1,200,000 stremmata (120,000 hectares) of land have burned across Greece in 2023 up until Wednesday (23 Aug) according to the National Observatory of Athens’ Meteo.gr. The European Observatory of Forest Fires noted the 2023 Greece wildfires’ burned land area is three times larger than the average annually burned land since 2006.

Greece suffers destructive wildfires every summer. Its deadliest killed 104 people in 2018, at Mati, a seaside resort near Athens.

UPDATE 25/08/2023

The last tree on Parnitha…

UPDATE 28/08/2023

A massive wildfire in Evros is burning on Monday (Aug. 28) for a tenth day. The Fire Department forces were reinforced in Evros and Rhodopi with 180 additional firefighters, AMNA reported on Monday. A total of 474 firefighters are operating with 16 teams on foot and 100 vehicles, assisted by 4 aircraft and 2 helicopters. Firefighters are also continuing to tackle the Mount Parnitha fire, near the Greek capital. Another blaze broke out on the island of Andros in Cyclades on Saturday (Aug. 26).

UPDATE 30/08/2023

Over 800,000 hectares burned in the Evros wildfire (Map Credit: EpaDAP published by AMNA)

The fires in Evros have ravaged more than 826,000 hectares by Monday (Aug. 28) according to the latest high-resolution images of the Sentinel-2 environmental satellite, analyzed by the mapping service of the National Forest Fire Observatory (EpaDAP), which is implemented by the Laboratory of Forest Management and Remote Sensing of the Department of Forestry and Natural Environment of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The wildfire is the biggest in the EU since the European Forest Fire Information System started keeping records in 2000.

Panagiota Maragou, head of conservation at the Greece division of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), told Reuters at least 30% of the National Park of Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest had been lost. Because of its high biodiversity, the national park was “one of the most important protected areas in Greece and also in Europe, perhaps also on an international scale,” she said.