Hundreds of firefighters fought fires that have devoured record numbers of woodlands in Greece on Saturday and left hundreds of families homeless. Still, heavy rains brought respite to hard-hit Turkey.
The fire service said that more than 1,450 Greek firefighters backed by at least 15 aircraft were battling the blazes, with reinforcements arriving from abroad.
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In Pefkofyto, in the north of Athens, pensioner Tasos Tsilivakos struggled to contain his tears. “This is a horrible disaster,” he told AFP. “I’m terrified that maybe only our great-grandchildren will have the chance to walk again in these areas.” One 62-year-old man from nearby Agios Stefanos told Alpha TV how, after being evacuated, he watched his house burning on television. “My child is still crying from the shock,” he said.
France and Britain said they were rushing to help Greece. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that he had spoken with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis about the crisis. “Solidarity as Europeans always,” Macron tweeted, saying France had deployed 80 firefighters and rescue workers as well as three Canadair firefighting planes.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted Saturday that Britain is sending “a team of experienced firefighters to support Greek firefighters currently battling the huge blazes”. Egypt is also expected to send two helicopters and Spain one Canadair plane.
With strong winds and temperatures of up to 38C forecast in some regions on Saturday, the blazes in Greece are expected to continue for some time. And this year’s fires have already been far more destructive than in previous years.
According to the European Forest Fire Information System, 56,655 hectares have been burnt in Greece in the last ten days. The average number of hectares burnt over the same period between 2008 and 2020 was 1,700 hectares.
“When this nightmarish summer ends, we will reverse the damage as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Mitsotakis pledged on Saturday. Greece and Turkey have been fighting devastating fires for more than a week as the region suffers its worst heatwave in decades. Officials and experts have linked such intense weather events to climate change.