Fires rage in Greece for a third day as 25 more villages are evacuated across the country

Locals are complaining that not enough is being done by the government to combat the fires, write Marina Rigou in Athens and Nikolia Apostolou in Kalamata

Marina Rigou,Nikolia Apostolou
Thursday 05 August 2021 17:15
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Firefighters battle wildfire overnight on Greek island of Evia

For a third day, Greek firefighters continue to battle wildfires as a prolonged heatwave and strengthening winds have fuelled more than 150 wildfires in recent days, threatening the ancient site of Olympia.

The blaze in Athens has rekindled and two new suburbs are being evacuated. Another major fire burned just one kilometre from the archeological site of Ancient Olympia, where the first Olympics was held, in the Peloponnese region of Greece, but was later brought under control.

Dozens of people have been evacuated from some 25 villages in the regions of Ilia, Evia, Grevena, and Messinia. In southern Greece, the fires are now burning the village of Karnasi in Mani.

More than 170 firefighters with 52 engines and six aircraft were operating to bring fires under control on the island of Evia.

“If there are even few people who have reservations about whether climate change is real, I call on them to come here and see the intensity of the phenomena,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the prime minister of Greece, said from Ilia, near Ancient Olympia.

The Civil Protection Authority issued an “extreme fire warning” for Friday as temperatures remained high.

Firefighters and planes have been deployed from other European countries including Sweden and Cyprus. The military also mobilised its forces to support patrols.

But that has not been enough to prevent more than 300 homes and businesses from being destroyed by the fires, according to state officials on Wednesday night.

The government is blaming the fire on the prolonged heatwave, which has now lasted ten days with temperatures reaching as high as 46C.

According to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service – the European Union’s Earth observation programme – July 2021 “was the second warmest July on record for Europe. Heatwaves occurred from the Baltic to the eastern Mediterranean.”

“We are carrying out organised evacuations in order to protect human lives,” Mr Mitsotakis said during his visit to Olympia. “We have a legal framework for state aid, which means that those citizens who saw their homes destroyed by the fire will be compensated so that the houses can be rebuilt,” he stressed.

For Yiannis Sfetsas, a 60-year-old car mechanic in Varibobi, that’s not enough. Yesterday, he saw his shop burn to the ground.

“Whenever there’s a protest they mobilise 10,000 policemen, but here they just sent 300 firefighters,” he said. “My shop is destroyed and so is my home.”

In Sfestas’ shop, 10 cars left there to be repaired have been reduced to ashes. “The damage is really big,” he said. “If only they had reached the initial fire they would have controlled it.”

An area of 6,000 hectares (14,8000 acres) was destroyed in three days, according to the National Observatory of Athens. It amounts to half of the usual annual total.

As efforts have been focused on saving Ancient Olympia, locals in Evia and Messinia are claiming on Greek media that they’re receiving very little aerial help.

On Wednesday, 85 people were rescued by sea from the coastal village of Rovies, where 150 homes and businesses were destroyed by fire.

Fire victims will receive €800 (£670) as emergency aid and €6,000 (£5,100) in the near future in order to buy furniture. More help is expected to be announced.

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