ATHENS – Shells of houses and cars ravaged by flames. Stretches of forest reduced to ashes. Tourists evacuated by boat from once idyllic beaches where the sky is covered in smoke. As southern Europe grapples with one of its worst heat waves in decades, deadly forest fires have engulfed swathes of the region, putting an end to a recently reopened tourism industry and forcing massive evacuations.
The raging fires have pushed residents out of their homes in villages across mainland Greece and islands and across neighboring Turkey, and forced tourists to abandon seaside destinations in the region.
Fires ravaged Turkey’s southern coast on a ninth day Thursday, forcing thousands to evacuate by land and sea overnight. A video broadcast on Turkish TV showed uncontrollable flames suddenly changing direction amid strong winds, trapping people.
Critics attacked President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the government’s handling of the deadly disaster, with opponents denouncing the lack of air support for the firefighting efforts.
Hundreds of square kilometers of forest burned as more than 180 fires broke out across the country. At least eight people have died, hundreds have been injured and dozens have lost their homes.
In Mugla, a Turkish province popular with tourists and teeming with agricultural land, residents unhappy with the out-of-control fires have blocked roads and stopped cars they deemed suspicious.
“Maybe they burned the forest,” shouted Muharrem Duygu, a resident of Mugla who was seen stopping a car. in a video posted on Twitter. “My forest is on fire right now.”
Firefighters managed to bring a blaze under control as it approached a power plant in Milas after working through the night to save the facility. Trees on the plant’s grounds were burnt, but the main site was not seriously damaged, officials said.
In ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games in southern Greece, local authorities and military personnel dug lines of fire around the archaeological site to keep the flames out as firefighters battled the fires throughout the region. night.
Extreme weather conditions
In a televised address to the nation on Thursday evening, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the raging fires in Greece were “of massive size and intensity” and called on the public to exercise caution as a wave record heat had turned the country into a “powder keg.”
Responding to vehement criticism of his government’s response to the fires, by political opposition and on social media, Mitsotakis said authorities had done what they could in the face of “a natural phenomenon of such magnitude “. He added: “There will be time for criticism and self-criticism. But not now.”
The Greek government on Thursday increased the involvement of the army in the fight against the fires. And, the country received support in the form of two firefighting planes from Cyprus. Further assistance will arrive from France, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland on Friday, Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said at a press conference on Thursday evening.
A large fire that broke out on Tuesday north of Athens destroyed dozens of houses and thousands of hectares of forest. It had been partially contained, but caught fire again later that day.
Tourists visiting the capital were greeted by a thick curtain of smoke hanging over the city’s iconic landmarks. A short distance to the north, residents were forced to leave their homes. Some have tried unsuccessfully to use pipes to keep flames from engulfing their properties as a fire reignited north of Athens on Thursday afternoon and spread rapidly, prompting further evacuations – y including in Malakasa, a state camp from which asylum seekers would be evacuated to other facilities. on instruction from the civil protection authorities, according to the Greek Migration Ministry.
Earlier Thursday Vasilis Vathrakoyiannis, a spokesman for the fire service, said 120 fires were burning across the country, the largest and most worrying in ancient Olympia and on the island of Euboea.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Greek Coast Guard evacuated dozens of people from the seaside village of Rovies on the island after a massive fire spread through a nearby pine forest. Residents of several villages on the island were forced to abandon their homes, and local authorities and the military dug lines of fire in an attempt to protect a monastery. The local church in the village of Kechries rang its bells early Thursday morning to urge its residents to flee.
In photos of the island, the sun was barely visible through the dense smoke that floated above the cliffside houses.
Greek TV channels scanned videos of the fires raging in northern Athens, Evia and the Peloponnese peninsula, awakening memories of the summer of 2007, when Greece battled several large fires across the countries that have killed dozens of people.
While scientists have yet to have time to assess the link between the current wave of extreme temperatures and global warming, it fits a global trend that has seen climate change play a role in extreme weather conditions in Europe. Research has shown that during major heat waves across Europe in recent summers, climate change has been a major aggravating factor.
Efthymis Lekkas, professor of natural disaster management at the University of Athens, warned of “a lingering nightmare in August” and urged authorities to prepare for possible flooding after the destruction of large swathes of forest .
The Greek General Secretariat for Civil Protection warned Friday against an “extreme” risk of fires, while intense winds are expected to worsen the situation.
Niki Kitsantonis brought back from Athens and Megan Specia reported from New York.