Greece is facing one of its worst heat waves in decades and the country remains on high alert as it continues to fight fires across the country.
Residents of the Greek capital Athens have been warned to stay indoors with their windows closed due to poor air quality after a forest fire raged in the capital’s northern suburbs on Tuesday. The extreme heat has forced the Culture Ministry to shut down the Acropolis and other ancient sites from noon to 5 p.m. local this week.
The Greek fire service said on Wednesday it had been called in to respond to 78 forest fires in the past 24 hours. A fire on the large island of Evia, northeast of Athens, was burning heavily on Wednesday.
Wildfires also continued to burn in parts of Turkey on Tuesday, fueled by the extreme heat. At least eight people had died in the fires in Mugla and Antalya provinces on Tuesday, the official Turkish news agency Anadolu reported.
CNN forecasters said the region’s current heat wave will last until at least Friday, with a heat spike Tuesday and Wednesday for Greece. Temperatures are expected to rise again up to 10 degrees above average on Wednesday, to over 40 degrees Celsius, in Greece and western Turkey.
The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), an EU program, said on Wednesday that the Mediterranean region was becoming a “wildfire hotspot” and warned that fires already started were emitting large amounts of smoke pollution in the atmosphere.
âIn Turkey and southern Italy, CAMS data shows that emissions and intensity of forest fires are increasing rapidly, and countries like Morocco, Albania, Greece, North Macedonia and Lebanon are also affected, “he said in a press release.
“Plumes of smoke from the fires are clearly visible on satellite images crossing the eastern Mediterranean basin from southern Turkey.”
“Extremely difficult fire”
In Greece, more than 200 locations topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday. The maximum temperature of 47.1 Â° C (117 Â° F), recorded at Langadas in Thessaloniki, was less than one degree from the European record of 48.0 Â° C recorded in Athens, Greece, in 1977.
The Greek meteorological service warned that the fire risk remained very high on Wednesday and Thursday. “The prolonged heat conditions prevailing in our country have increased the flammability of dead fuel to extremely high levels over almost the entire territory, making any use of fire extremely dangerous,” he said.
The fire on the outskirts of Athens is mostly under control but fears remain that it will resume, authorities said.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday that there had been no loss of life and that the emergency evacuation system had worked. He stressed that the next few days would be crucial due to the heatwave and everyone should stay alert.
Several residential areas have been evacuated, according to Greek firefighters.
As the blaze spread north of the capital on Tuesday, authorities urged residents to leave the Athenian suburbs of Varimpompi, Adames and Thrakomakedones, as well as the Olympic Village. The fire also threatened the royal palace of Tatoi.
Firefighters also battled fierce fires on the Greek islands of Kos and Evia, as well as the Peloponnese peninsula, as some residents evacuated.
“The hours are critical and the conditions we face are extremely dangerous,” Greek Deputy Minister of Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias said on Tuesday. “Our country has been experiencing an extreme weather phenomenon in recent days, one of the worst heat waves in the past 40 years.”
Updating reporters on the Athens area fire on Wednesday, Hardalias said an initial estimate was that 76 homes and 27 businesses had been badly damaged. More than 70 people have been taken to hospital with respiratory problems since Tuesday, Greek Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias added.
The Netherlands and the Czech Republic are sending helicopters to Albania and Slovenia is deploying 45 firefighters to North Macedonia, he added.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that she was monitoring the situation with great concern. “European solidarity is at work to fight against these terrible fires. We are with you”, she declared.
A number of forest fires are burning in eastern and northeastern North Macedonia, according to the European Commission’s Emergency Response Coordination Center (ERCC), forcing evacuations from the town of Kochani .
Albania has suffered more than 120 fires in recent weeks as a result of sustained high temperatures, with the Vlora region facing the most critical situation, the ERCC said.
The Italian farmers’ association, Coldiretti, said on Wednesday that its analysis of fire data indicated that large fires had tripled in the summer of 2021 from the historic average from 2008 to 2020, causing damage of several million euros to the environment, the economy, work and tourism.
The fires have incinerated tens of thousands of hectares of Mediterranean woodland and scrub across the country, he said, leaving behind dead animals and charred trees, olive groves and pastures, as well as areas threatening urban areas.
“The situation is very serious”
Meanwhile, Turkey was battling 11 fires in six provinces on Tuesday, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli tweeted on his official account.
A total of 152 fires in 32 provinces have been brought under control in Turkey in the past six days, he said.
Speaking at a government press conference in Marmaris, Pakdemirli said the Marmaris district of Mugla province experienced a record high temperature of 43.5 degrees Celsius with very low humidity – less than 10% – and 65 kilometers per hour (40 mph) wind speed.
More than 2,000 houses were damaged in Antalya and 347 more in Mugla, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said at the press conference.
The mayor of Milas, a town in southwestern Turkey, said flames from the ongoing fires reached near a power plant on Tuesday evening.
“The situation is very serious,” Mayor Muhammet Tokat said. “The flames have approached a thermal power plant. If possible, an airplane or helicopter with night vision should be directed immediately towards the area.”
CNN’s Chris Liakos reported from Kefalonia and Isil Sariyuce from Istanbul, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite, Taylor Ward, Monica Garrett and Livia Borghese contributed to this report.