Heat wave returns as Greece grapples with more wildfire evacuations

July 25, 2023 in International

A third successive heat wave in Greece pushed temperatures back above 40 C (104 F) across parts of the country Tuesday following more night-time evacuations from fires that have raged out of control for days.

The latest evacuations orders were issued on the islands of Corfu and Evia, while a blaze on the island of Rhodes continued to move inland, torching mountainous forest areas, including part of a nature reserve.

Desperate residents, many with wet towels around their necks to stave off the scorching heat, used shovels to beat back flames approaching their homes, while firefighting planes and helicopters resumed water drops at first light.

Authorities said that more than 20,000 people has been involved in successive evacuations on the island, mostly tourists over the weekend, when fire swept through two coastal areas on the southeast of Rhodes.

The European Union has sent 500 firefighters, 100 vehicles and seven planes from 10 member states, while Turkey, Israel, Egypt and other countries have also sent help.

“For the 12th day, under extreme conditions of heat and strong winds, we are fighting nonstop on dozens of forest fire fronts … The Greek Fire Service has battled more than 500 fires — more than 50 a day,” said Vassilis Kikilias, the minister for climate crisis and civil protection.

In Athens, authorities resumed afternoon closing hours at the ancient Acropolis, as part of broader measures to cope with the high heat.

EU officials have blamed climate change for the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires across the European continent, noting that 2022 was the second-worst year for wildfire damage on record after 2017.