DROSOPIGI, Greece (AP) – Thousands of people fled uncontrollable forest fires in Greece and Turkey on Friday, including a major fire just north of the Greek capital of Athens that claimed lives, as a prolonged heat wave has left the forests dry. and the flames threatened inhabited areas and electrical installations.
Turkey’s wildfires, described as the worst in decades, have swept across swathes of the southern coast in the past 10 days, killing eight people.
In Greece, firefighters were fighting 56 active forest fires, civil protection chief Nikos Hardalias said. Multiple evacuation orders have been issued for dozens of villages on the mainland and neighboring island of Evia, as well as for outlying settlements on the outskirts of Athens where fire has burned forests and houses, in the direction of from Lake Marathon, the capital’s main water reservoir.
The changing winds on Friday afternoon caused the fires outside Athens and Evia to change direction several times, returning in some cases to threaten areas that had narrowly escaped destruction earlier this week.
“We are continuing our hour-by-hour efforts to tackle the multiple fires we face today,” said Hardalias. “The conditions are exceptionally dangerous. “
Athens main trauma hospital said a 38-year-old man died from a head injury caused by a falling utility pole in an area north of Athens affected by the fire .
On Evia, the coast guard mounted a major operation overnight and through Friday to evacuate hundreds of residents and vacationers by sea, using patrol boats, fishing boats and other private vessels. A new sea evacuation order was issued Friday evening for the village of Limni, initially spared by the fire, where residents were asked to head to the port to board a ferry.
“We are talking about the apocalypse, I don’t know how to describe it,” Sotiris Danikas, head of the coastguard for the town of Aidipsos in Evia, told state broadcaster ERT, describing the previous maritime evacuation.
The coast guard said 668 people were taken off the beaches of northeastern Evia by early Friday afternoon after the flames cut off all other means of escape.
A coast guard ship also rescued 10 other people trapped on a beach by another blaze near the town of Gythio in the southern Peloponnese region.
Greek and EU officials blamed climate change for the multiple fires ravaging southern Europe, from southern Italy to the Balkans, via Greece and Turkey.
In Italy, firefighters fighting a forest fire in the province of Reggio Calabria found the bodies of a man and a woman in an olive grove. The LaPresse news agency said they died from smoke inhalation.
Massive fires have been burning for weeks in Siberia in northern Russia, in hot, dry, gusty weather also fueled devastating California wildfires.
Greece was hit by its most prolonged heat wave in three decades, with temperatures reaching 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit), although it was cooler on Friday.
At least 20 people, including four firefighters, were treated for injuries. Two of the firefighters were in intensive care in Athens, while two others were hospitalized with minor burns.
More than 1,000 firefighters and nearly 20 planes are now battling major fires across Greece, as additional firefighters, planes, helicopters and vehicles arrived from France, Switzerland, Romania, Cyprus, Croatia , Israel and Sweden.
The US embassy in Athens said on Friday that US naval forces in Europe will provide a P-8 aerial reconnaissance aircraft to support Greece’s firefighting efforts.
In Turkey, authorities evacuated six other neighborhoods near the town of Milas in Mugla province on Friday as a windswept forest fire burned about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from a power plant. Two other neighborhoods were also evacuated as a precaution later in the day as another fire spread from the Yatagan area of Mugla to the edge of neighboring Aydin province further north.
At least 36,000 people were evacuated to safety in Mugla province alone, officials said.
Excavators formed firewalls to keep out flames at the Yenikoy Power Plant, the second such facility under threat in the area.
The forest fires near the tourist resort of Marmaris, also in Mugla, were largely contained on Thursday evening, while by Friday afternoon the two main fires in neighboring Antalya province were under control.
In Greece, firefighters went door to door in areas about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) north of Athens, telling people to evacuate, as helicopters dropped water on towering flames and thick smoke blanketed the area. Authorities sent push alerts to cellphones in the area urging residents to leave, while a refugee camp on the outskirts of the capital was evacuated overnight.
Constant outbreaks threatened populated areas.
The fire interrupted traffic on the main highway connecting Athens to northern Greece and damaged electrical installations. The electricity distribution company announced gradual cuts in the wider capital region to protect the power grid.
In the Drosopigi area, a resident of Giorgos Hatzispiros examined the damage to his house on Friday morning, the first time he saw it after being ordered to evacuate the previous afternoon. Only the charred walls of the single storey house remained, along with her children’s bicycles, somehow unscathed in a storage room. Inside, smoke rose from a still smoking library.
“There is nothing left,” Hatzispiros said. He urged his mother to leave, to spare her the sight of their destroyed house.
In the southern Peloponnese region, dozens of villages and settlements were evacuated and a fire was stopped before reaching the monuments of Olympia, cradle of the ancient Olympic Games.
The fires also disrupted COVID-19 vaccinations. The Ministry of Health announced the suspension of vaccinations in centers in areas affected by the fires.
“Our priority is always the protection of human life, followed by the protection of property, the natural environment and critical infrastructure. Unfortunately, under these circumstances, achieving all of these goals at the same time is simply impossible, ”Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised address Thursday evening.
Forest fires, he said, show “the reality of climate change.”
In 2018, more than 100 people died when a rapid forest fire engulfed a seaside settlement east of Athens.
Becatoros reported from Argostoli, Greece, and Fraser from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press reporter Mehmet Guzel in Mugla, Turkey, and Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed.
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