Greece: Heat waves and forest fires

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The Independent Online

Greece is tackling its worst forest fires for decades, with thousands of acres destroyed, and a massive operation to stop the flames on the holiday island of Samos.

Greece is tackling its worst forest fires for decades, with thousands of acres destroyed, and a massive operation to stop the flames on the holiday island of Samos.

Temperatures in Greece have been as high as 44C or 110F over the past week, prompting the Greek government to activate an emergency civil defence plan. Forecasters say high temperatures could return again later in the week.

The government has declared a state of emergency on Samos, sending in 70 fire engines and 700 firefighters and authorising the local munic-ipality to hire anything that can fly and dump water.

"We have not had to face such adverse conditions in decades," said the government's spokesman, Dimitras Reppas. He blamed a dry winter that had made much of Greece a tinderbox, high winds and a recent record heatwave.

The Greek authorities fear a repeat of the killer heatwave of 1987, in which between 950 and 1,200 people died from effects of the heat and the consequent pollution.

They have cancelled all leave for ambulance drivers, and hospitals are open around the clock to deal with cases of heat exhaustion.

Local councils have set up a service that sends buses to collect vulnerable people including the elderly and bring them to air-conditioned public buildings during the hottest part of the day.

Air-conditioned shopping centres have been told to stay open longer. Television stations are carrying special heat-wave bulletins, which give updates on temperature levels and advice on how to keep cool.

The interior minister has ordered the immediate mobilisation of rubbish collectors in western Athens - who were threatening to strike - thus heading off the prospect of rotting piles of waste on the pavements of the teeming city as temperatures reach their highest in 10 years.

Over the past week, sales of air-conditioning equipment have reached a record level, as has the demand for electricity, and there have been power cuts in several parts of the city. A government minister was forced to make a television broadcast to reassure people the national grid was not breaking down.

The Greek government has been meeting in emergency session as more fires break out. The British travel agents' association, Abta, is advising visitors to stay in constant touch with their tour operator before they leave, and take precautions against heat exhaustion.

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