ATHENS – Thousands of people have fled their homes as Greece battles wildfires sparked by record high temperatures for a second week, and as critics accuse the government of failing to prepare for annual fires the intensity of which is widely thought to be driven by the climate crisis.
More than 100 fires have struck the Greek mainland and islands in the past week, which saw temperatures rise to record highs of 45 degrees Celsius, gutting forests north of the capital of Athens.
The northeast island of Evia, Greece’s second largest, was particularly badly hit, with thousands having to be evacuated by ferry this weekend amid apocalyptic images of flames and destruction.
“I feel angry. I lost my home … nothing will be the same the next day,” one resident told local journalists on a ferry. “It’s a disaster, it’s huge. Our villages are destroyed, there is nothing left from our homes, our properties, nothing.”
At least one firefighter has died and dozens taken to hospital with injuries.
The Greek government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had warned that Greece faced a difficult summer but residents were livid at the slow response from fire crews and at the perception that political influence was necessary to get crews to save homes from the encroaching flames.
Other critics argue that Greece has five police officers for every firefighter in a country famous for very little violent crime but lots of annual forest fires. Of the 3,500 firefighting vehicles that are available, most are around 20 years old and fall out of service each year after fighting a single fire, according to researchers on public safety in Greece.
At least 17 firefighting planes as well as hundreds of firefighters from around Europe have fought to contain the worst fires in decades that at one point cut the country in half after a flames crossed the major highway north of Athens. Neighbouring Turkey also continued to battle the flames, which killed at least eight people last week.
Although the fires outside of Athens were mostly under control Monday and the situation in Evia had improved tremendously, a Greek fire official told the New York Times that the situation remains precarious considering the heat, lack of rain and possibility of resparking.
“We’re particularly concerned about Evia,” said Vasilis Vathrakoyiannis. “It’s a massive expanse where we can see a rekindling at any given moment.”
The fires were still smouldering Monday as the UN released a major scientific report that called itself a “Code Red for Humanity,” and warned high summer temperatures and climate-related crises such as forest fires will continue to be the norm.