Thousands forced to flee as wildfires destroy homes on outskirts of Athens

Gusty winds and scorching heat have caused fires in Greece to become unpredictable to end the week and start the weekend, forcing firefighting crews to retreat and additional evacuations for nearby residents. Fire crews from across Europe and the Mediterranean have been deployed to help control the fires across the country.

Two people were killed by the fires, according to the BBC. One of the fatalities was a volunteer firefighter from Ippokratio Politia who died on Friday after sustaining injuries, a Greek media outlet reported.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, local time, more than 1,000 people on the Euboea Island were evacuated by ferries from seaside towns as fires cut off all other means of escape, NPR reported. Videos show the apocalyptic scenes residents and tourists left behind.

In the Mani region of the Peloponnese Island, East Mani Deputy Mayor Drakoulakou called the fires a “biblical catastrophe” while speaking with reporters and estimates about 70% of the municipality has been destroyed. Drakoulakou and other officials across the country have been pleading for more water-dropping aircraft to help control the flames, NPR reported.

Firefighters in Kryoneri, located to the northwest of Athens, were forced to retreat on Friday as they struggled to slow the advancing flames, local media reported. The fire entered the settlement as firefighters, volunteers and residents evacuated the area after a “titanic” battle from land and air crews.

In the last 10 days, 56,655 hectares (140,000 acres) have been burnt in Greece, according to the European Forest Fire Information System. The average number of hectares burnt over the same period between 2008 and 2020 was 1,700 hectares.

“When this nightmarish summer ends we will reverse the damage as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Mitsotakis pledged on Saturday.

Greece and Turkey have been fighting devastating fires for more than a week as the region suffers its worst heatwave in decades. Officials and experts have linked such intense weather events to climate change.

So far, they have killed two people in Greece and eight in Turkey, with dozens more hospitalised there over 10 days.

A UN draft report seen by AFP labelled the Mediterranean region a “climate change hotspot”, warning that heatwaves, droughts and fires would become more fierce in the future, supercharged by rising temperatures.