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Europe's holiday paradise battling fires: flames in Athens

Europe’s holiday paradise battling fires: flames in Athens

Four large Greek cities have already been evacuated due to the fires. (icon image).

© AFP

ATHENS, ISTANBUL – Meter-high flames make their way through forests and bushes on the slopes of the Turkish Riviera, while black clouds of smoke darken the blue sky. On the country’s Mediterranean coast – indeed a holiday paradise for local and foreign tourists at this time of year – devastating fires have been raging for days. Also in Italy and Greece, where the capital, Athens, was also damaged, the fires charred vast tracts of land. There are also forest and forest fires in southern Bulgaria.

“Hell is behind us”

A fire was out of control in the northern suburbs of Athens on Tuesday. Four large cities were evacuated. Thousands of people had to seek refuge in other parts of the Greek capital. The state provided hotel rooms for the coming nights. A fire broke out between homes in the Athens suburbs of Faribopi and Charnes on Tuesday evening. Some homes were on fire, state television (ERT) showed. Residents left the affected areas in panic. “Hell is behind us,” a resident from his car called to local reporters. Thick streams of smoke were seen from all over Athens. Ash fell on the city.

“Our primary goal is to save human lives,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoides said after a crisis meeting on state television. There were also smaller fires on the Peloponnese peninsula and on the Greek-Turkish border on the Evros River, the fire brigade announced. At first, nothing was known about the victims in Greece.

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Fires also broke out in Sicily, Sardinia and the Adriatic Sea in tourist areas or sometimes directly on the beach. A number of villages were evacuated, and tourists were taken to safety in some cases by boat. In Italy, and in the south, the large islands and parts of the Adriatic coast were particularly affected.

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A new generation of fires

More than 150 fires have broken out in Turkey since last Wednesday. No help came too late for the eight people there. A German-Turkish couple was among the dead, Turkish media reported. The man and the woman were found dead on a road near their home in Manavgat in the Antalya region. The State Department did not confirm the reports on Tuesday at this time. According to the government-affiliated Demirorn Haber Aganci (DHA) news agency, the German-born couple tried to flee to a nearby well. Fires in Turkey mainly burn on the Mediterranean coast, particularly in the regions of Antalya, Mugla and Adana. Livestock such as cows and chickens as well as animals living in the forests died in great numbers in the flames.

“Forests in the Mediterranean region are being destroyed by a new generation of fires,” says a letter from the World Wide Fund for Nature. The environmental organization fears that “more than half a million hectares of forests will catch fire this year in the entire Mediterranean region”.

Turkey and Greece have experienced a heat wave with extreme temperatures for days. Sometimes there are more than 40 degrees, “the soil is drying up, there has been no rain for a long time,” Andreas Friedrich, press spokesman for the German Weather Service (DWD), the German news agency, told DPA.

There can be many causes of fires. In Italy, for example, the police arrested two arsonists in Sicily. A statement on Tuesday said the Carabinieri arrested the two men, aged 80 and 25, red-handed on Monday in the central province of Enna. Accordingly, they were about to set fire to the region of Monte Nebrodi, a well-known natural area of ​​Sicily, some of which are under the protection of nature.

Sharp criticism of President Erdogan

The Turkish government is criticized, among other things, for the lack of equipment for emergency services.

© Adam Altan

In Turkey, the fires are also fueling political debate. From the start, criticism of the emergency services equipment has been particularly loud on social media. The small number of firefighting aircraft, and the lack of preparedness for such crises. According to the Turkish Aviation Association, Turkey has 3 firefighting aircraft and 17 helicopters. For comparison: Greece has more than 40 firefighting aircraft and 25 helicopters. The government admitted the mistake, and other planes were ordered from abroad to support the firefighting work. The European Union sent three planes from Croatia and Spain for removal. Hundreds of helpers came from Azerbaijan.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also been criticized. A video repeatedly shared on social media shows Erdogan throwing bottled tea from a bus that passes quickly at people on the side of the road on his journey to the disaster area. A person in military uniform bends over so as not to hit the tea canister. Many viewed the video as evidence of the government’s inability to respond adequately to the emergency.

No reduction in fire risk in sight

As the heat increases, the electricity consumption also increases. The Greek Ministry of Energy called on all citizens not to set air conditioners to extremely low temperatures. “26 degrees and no more,” the ministry said. In Turkey, electricity was cut off in many places in the country on Monday, and the reason was the sharp rise in heat consumption, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources.

No rain was in sight in any of the three countries until the end of next week, according to the Department of Human Development. Dry and hot weather will continue for the next 10 days. In light of the drought, the risk of a massive fire would be even after this heat wave was over, meteorologists warned: If winds blow, devastating fires could occur. (dpa)