Greece is facing historic fires, fueled by scorching temperatures. On Tuesday July 25, two Canadair pilots died during an intervention, while another charred body was found.
[Updated July 25, 2023 at 11:21 p.m.] For more than ten days, Greece has been facing devastating fires, fueled by an unprecedented heat wave. In Rhodes, a major tourist destination, more than 13,000 hectares have burned, or about 10% of the island, according to a report from Copernicus, published on Tuesday July 25. Evacuations are taking place on the islands of Rhodes and Corfu. The Greek Prime Minister estimated, in a speech before Parliament, that the coming days would be difficult, until Thursday, the day from which a drop in temperatures is expected. "Greece is at war against the fires," said Kyriakos Mitsotakis, according to remarks reported by Franceinfo.
Two pilots of a Canadair died on Tuesday, July 25, in the crash of their water bomber on the island of Euboea. The aircraft slammed into a hill seconds after dropping water on a flame. This terrible accident marks the first victims of this wave of fires. Another victim was discovered in Greece on Tuesday (July 25th): the charred body of a man was found on the island of Euboea, a police spokeswoman said. “A police unit is going to the scene to check if it is a shepherd who has been missing since Sunday” when the forest fires broke out on the island, she said, according to reports. by TF1.
In total, nearly 67 fire outbreaks are deemed uncontrollable in Greece. The results of the weekend do not encourage optimism since only twelve fires were stopped. Only the situation in Athens has improved. The heat wave that affects the whole country has favored the appearance of forest fires. Le Monde points out that "in the center of the country and in the Peloponnese peninsula, temperatures between 45°C and 46.4°C were recorded on Sunday July 23 in the afternoon, according to the National Observatory of Athens ." A 46-year-old man died on July 20 on the island of Euboea after medical staff recorded a "body temperature of 40 degrees" upon admission to the emergency room.
Greek public television, ERT, refers to one of the "hottest weekends recorded in July in the last fifty years." "Athens is going to have temperatures over 40°C for 6-7 days, until the end of July," said Panagiotis Giannopoulos, a Greek meteorologist with France 24. The fires are also being fanned by gusts which promote the spread of flames. In addition to Rhodes and Corfu, the island of Euboea and the northern Peloponnese are also the scene of violent fires. Eight regions are currently on maximum fire alert: Attica, Central Greece, North Aegean, South Aegean, Thessaly, Peloponnese, Ionian Islands and Western Greece.
If the thousands of evacuated tourists welcome the prevention of the authorities with the choice to anticipate the evacuations, they are faced with a major problem: the Mediterranean country does not have the infrastructure to accommodate so many evacuees. The airports of the evacuated islands are marked by massive overcrowding with people lying on the ground for endless hours waiting for a plane.
Holidaymakers sent to the mainland are placed on hold in gymnasiums and schools with delicate sanitary arrangements. Franceinfo spoke of "apocalyptic conditions". France has sent two Canadair reinforcements which have already carried out more than 130 airdrops. Italy, Turkey, Israel and Jordan are also supporting the Greek relief forces with the support of planes, helicopters and firefighters.
The newspaper Le Monde was scathing, "instead of having residents and tourists leave preventively, shouldn't we increase prevention, circumscribe the fires more quickly by giving ourselves the means?" This question echoes the criticisms that have descended on the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of Greece. Efsyn, a leftist Greek daily explained that "in four years, more than 200,000 hectares have been reduced to ashes. This is the worst government record since 1981."
Part of the Greek opinion was shocked to see military planes being used to transport police to Rhodes to speed up evacuations while at the same time, firefighters in reinforcements are transported by boat. Efsyn revealed that "volunteer firefighters, people from the island of Rhodes", were often the only ones operating in the woods, in very difficult conditions. They were the ones who helped the sappers from other regions of Greece who did not know the terrain. There was no coordination in the operations."
The Greek authorities are criticized for their management of the fires, with failing human resources, but also a lack of prevention, which was noted by Franceinfo. “Every year, we pay around 240 million for the protection of forests. Of these, around 80% go to extinction and only 20% to prevention”, notes a man quoted in a Greek newspaper, taken up by Franceinfo. Also pointed out is the lack of maintenance of forests, which makes them more vulnerable to fires, but also the lack of cooperation and communication between those responsible for managing fires.