Greek Villages Evacuated as Forest Fires Threaten Ancient Sites


ATHENS — As Southern Europe grapples with one of the worst heatwaves in decades, deadly bushfires have gripped much of the region, bringing tourism to a standstill and mandating mass evacuations.

Violent fires have seen beachside tourist destinations in the area abandoned as the flames force residents to migrate from Greek islands and villages on the mainland. Destroyed forest areas and houses in Turkeyand led to dramatic rescues for days in Italy.

The Greek government on Thursday increased its military involvement in fighting bushfires as dozens of fires continue to burn across the country, fueled by a record-breaking heatwave that ravaged the region.

In ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, firefighters battled the flames throughout the night, while local officials and army personnel dug fire pipes around the archaeological site to keep the flames at bay.

“We will fight all day,” said Michalis Chrysochoidis, minister of public order, during a visit to the ancient UNESCO World Heritage site on Thursday.

While scientists have yet to assess the link between the current extreme heat wave and global warming, it fits with a general trend that is seeing climate change play a role in extreme weather conditions in Europe. Studies have shown that for the big heatwaves in Europe in recent summers, climate change has been a major worsening factor.

A massive fire that broke out in northern Athens on Tuesday and destroyed many homes and hundreds of acres of forest was partially extinguished on Thursday, according to fire brigade Vasilis Vathrakoyiannis, but firefighters remained on the scene as small fronts flared up again. spokesman.

He said 120 fires were burning across the country on Thursday, the largest and most worrying on the island of Evia and ancient Olympia.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Greek coast guard evacuated dozens of people from the coastal village of Rovies on the island after a massive fire broke out through a nearby pine forest.

Residents of at least 12 villages on that island were forced to flee their homes Wednesday, and local officials and the military dug a line of fire to try to protect a monastery. The local church in the village of Kechries rang its bells early Thursday morning to urge residents to flee.

People in Athens were instructed to stay indoors on Thursday as a thick cloud of smoke from the fire north of the capital descended on the city. A video released by the Athens National Observatory showed the extent of the devastation wrought by that fire, the flames burning buildings and cars. Vast areas of the forest were covered with a ghostly white, the once green leaves turning into a thick pile of ash.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is scheduled to visit the Peloponnese region devastated by fires that killed more than 60 people in 2007, on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, Mitsotakis met with defense and military officials and announced plans to increase military involvement in fire preparedness and firefighting in the coming days, as ongoing drought and high temperatures will continue to increase the risk of fires.

Efthymis Lekkas, a professor of natural disaster management at the University of Athens, warned of a “permanent nightmare in August” and urged authorities to step up preparations for possible flooding after large forest areas were destroyed.


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