Multinational force fights to contain outbreaks
CONTIAS – Hundreds of firefighters from across Europe and the Middle East worked alongside Greek colleagues on rugged terrain on Wednesday to contain outbreaks of the massive wildfires that ravaged Greece’s forests for a week, destroying homes and forcing evacuations.
The spread of the fires was largely halted, officials said, but fronts were still burning on the large island of Euboea and in Greece’s southern Peloponnese region.
The fires broke out last week as Greece had just experienced its worst and longest heat wave since 1987, leaving its forests dry. Other neighboring countries such as Turkey and Italy also faced similar scorching temperatures and rapidly spreading fires, while Spain and Portugal were on alert for forest fires amid ‘a heat wave that is expected to last until Monday.
At the other end of the Mediterranean, in Algeria, forest fires killed 42 people on Tuesday.
Worsening drought and heat – both linked to climate change – have also fueled wildfires this summer in the western United States and the northern Siberian region of Russia. Scientists say there is no doubt that climate change due to the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is the cause of extreme events.
Greece said a total of 900 firefighters, including teams from Poland, Romania, Cyprus, Ukraine, Serbia, Slovakia and Moldova, were in action on Evia, which is the second largest island from the country and connected to the mainland by a bridge.
The rugged and forested northern part of Evia, with mountain villages and small seaside resorts, suffered the most damage from this month’s fires, with around 50,000 hectares (123,000 acres) lost, as well as dozens of houses.
600 other firefighters from Greece, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, France and Germany were deployed on Wednesday near ancient Olympia and in Arcadia in the Peloponnese, assisted by 14 water drops and volunteers.
A massive fire that broke out last week north of Athens was confined to a section of a national park on Mount Parnitha, with most ground forces attempting to put it out using a helicopter. Firefighters from France, Qatar, Kuwait and Israel have been deployed there.
Despite the massive destruction of forests, wildlife and livestock – and homes, although official estimates are not yet available – the basic policy of the Greek authorities of evacuating villages to protect the many loss of life has paid off: A volunteer fighter died last week after being hit by a falling utility pole, and two were hospitalized in serious condition with burns.
The Department of Health said Wednesday that three more firefighters needed treatment for respiratory problems and minor burns suffered in the Arcadia fire.
The causes of the fires are under investigation and authorities say at least one major arson appears likely. Several people have been arrested in different parts of the country and accused of starting the fires, in some cases intentionally.
The government has promised an extensive compensation and reforestation program.
In neighboring Turkey, firefighters worked until Wednesday morning to put out a forest fire in the southwestern province of Mugla, which borders the Aegean Sea. At least eight people and countless animals have died in more than 200 forest fires in Turkey since July 28.
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