Hundreds of firefighters battle infernos in Greece as rain relief in Turkey

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Hundreds of firefighters fought the fires on Saturday that have devoured record numbers of forests in Greece and left hundreds of families homeless, but heavy rains brought some calm to hard-hit Turkey.

More than 1,450 Greek firefighters, supported by at least 15 aircraft, fought the wildfires and flare-ups as reinforcements from other countries arrived, the fire service said.

“We are sending a team of experienced firefighters to support Greek firefighters who are currently fighting the massive fires,” UK Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted on Saturday.

Egypt is also expected to send two helicopters and Spain one Canadair firefighting plane.

With strong winds and temperatures of up to 38 degrees C (100 F) forecast in some regions on Saturday, the fires in Greece are expected to continue for some time to come. And this year’s fires are already far more devastating than in previous years.

According to the European Forest Fire Information System, 56,655 hectares (140,000 acres) have been burned in Greece in the past 10 days. The average number of burned hectares over the same period between 2008 and 2020 was 1,700 hectares.

“When this nightmarish summer is over, we will reverse the damage as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis promised on Saturday.

In Pefkofyto, in northern Athens, retiree Tasos Tsilivakos struggled to hold back his tears.

“This is a terrible disaster,” he told AFP.

“I’m really worried that maybe only our great-grandchildren will have a chance to walk in these areas again.”

A 62-year-old man from nearby Agios Stefanos told Alpha TV how, after being evacuated, he should have seen his house burnt on television. “My child is still crying from the shock,” he said.

Rain helps Turkey

Greece and Turkey have been fighting devastating fires for more than a week as the region experiences its worst heat wave in decades. Officials and experts have linked such intense weather events to climate change.

So far they have killed two people in Greece and eight in Turkey, with dozens more shot there over 10 days of the fires.

A UN draft report seen by AFP labeled the Mediterranean as a “climate change hot spot”, warning that heatwaves, droughts and fires would intensify in the future, exacerbated by rising temperatures.

But the weather gave Turkey some relief on Saturday.

Officials in the Turkish coastal city of Antalya said the fires were under control in the southwestern province after rainfall there.

And heavy rainfall was expected to continue into the afternoon in areas including Manavgat, one of the hardest hit by the fires.

However, the situation remained serious around the Mugla tourist hotspot, where at least three neighborhoods have been ordered to evacuate.

There have been more than 200 fires in 47 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli tweeted early Saturday. Thirteen of those fires in five provinces are still burning.

>> Power plant breached as Turkey battles ‘worst wildfires ever’

Fear of more strong wind

Greece’s Deputy Civil Defense Minister Nikos Hardalias said on Saturday that 55 fires were raging in Greece.

They were on fire on Evia, the country’s second largest island, which lies east of the capital; in the Peloponnese region in the southwest; and in Fthiotida in Central Greece.

The fire front on Evia alone was 30 kilometers long, said Fanis Spanos, regional governor of central Greece.

In the north of the island, another 23 were evacuated on Saturday morning after 1,300 were plucked from the beach by ferries the night before. Off the coast, Navy warships were on high alert in case more evacuations were needed.

On the Attica peninsula, the situation was “more stable” because there were no strong winds in the area.

Meanwhile, officials reopened part of a highway connecting Athens to the north of the country.

Central Greece’s regional governor Fanis Spanos told the Athens News Agency (ANA) that more than 300 families whose homes had burned down were being accommodated in hotels.

And the situation remained dire in Mani, in the Peloponnese, where 5,000 people were evacuated on Friday.

Eleni Drakoulakou, the mayor of East Mani, told ERT TV on Saturday that half of the municipality has been destroyed by the flames. She blamed a lack of water-dripping air support during the critical early hours of the bushfire.

In Ilia, in the western Peloponnese, more villages were evacuated.

ANA, meanwhile, reported that two people had been charged with arson: A woman was arrested Friday in Athens with two lighters, petrol and combustible material, just after a fire broke out there.

Also Friday, a 43-year-old man was arrested in Krioneri, in northern Attica.

(AFP)