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Greek villagers refuse to evacuate and work around the clock to save their homes from wildfires


Greece is facing ‘a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions’ and its most challenging crisis ‘in decades’, the Prime Minister has said after hundreds of wildfires tore through forests dried out in a blistering heatwave.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, giving an address to the nation, pointed to climate change as the cause of the disaster but said it is ‘not an excuse’ for the government’s response, which has been widely slammed as inadequate.

‘We did what was humanly possible, but in many cases it was not enough,’ Mitsotakis said, while apologising for ‘any shortcomings’ on the part of the state. 

‘Because of the unprecedented heatwave and prolonged drought, (the fires) are hard to extinguish,’ he added. 

More than 500 fires have broken out across Greece in just a few days, Mitsotakis revealed, prompting evacuations of villages and towns as flames ripped through – destroying at least 1,000 homes and torching more than half a million acres of forest across the country.

Hardest-hit has been the island of Evia, where flames have now raged for eight days – racing from one side of the island to the other and reducing everything in their path to ash. 

Damage on the island ‘blackens everyone’s hearts’, Mitsotakis said, while promising compensation for victims, a reforesting campaign, and millions of Euros to bolstering the country’s defences against natural disasters.  

Greek villagers have refused to evacuate and are working around the clock to save their homes as wildfires continued to ravage the island of Evia for the eighth consecutive day

The Evia fire (pictured near Asmini village) is one of around a dozen currently burning in Greece

The Evia fire is by far the most widespread and severe in Greece

The Evia fire (pictured near Asmini village) is one of around a dozen currently burning in Greece, which is in the midst of its worst heatwave in 30 years, but is by far the most widespread and severe

The fire brigade was bracing for a pick up in winds from Tuesday afternoon which could cause more flare ups on Greece's second largest island, amid fears other fronts on the Peloponnese could also be reignited

The fire brigade was bracing for a pick up in winds from Tuesday afternoon which could cause more flare ups on Greece’s second largest island, amid fears other fronts on the Peloponnese could also be reignited

The Evia fire is one of around a dozen currently burning in Greece, which is in the midst of its worst heatwave in 30 years, but is by far the most widespread and severe

The Evia fire is one of around a dozen currently burning in Greece, which is in the midst of its worst heatwave in 30 years, but is by far the most widespread and severe

Greek villagers and firefighters are working around the clock to save their homes as wildfires continue to ravage the country for the eight consecutive day

Greek villagers and firefighters are working around the clock to save their homes as wildfires continue to ravage the country for the eight consecutive day

Firefighter helicopters are filled with water off the beach of the village of Pefki as emergency services continue to tackle wildfires in Greece

Firefighter helicopters are filled with water off the beach of the village of Pefki as emergency services continue to tackle wildfires in Greece

Serbian firefighters and volunteers use a water hose to extinguish the Evia fire, one of around a dozen currently burning in Greece, but by far the most widespread and severe

Serbian firefighters and volunteers use a water hose to extinguish the Evia fire, one of around a dozen currently burning in Greece, but by far the most widespread and severe

The Evia fire is one of around a dozen currently burning in Greece, which is in the midst of its worst heatwave in 30 years, but is by far the most widespread and severe

The Evia fire is one of around a dozen currently burning in Greece, which is in the midst of its worst heatwave in 30 years, but is by far the most widespread and severe

Firefighters and local volunteers took part in efforts to extinguish the flames near the village of Avgaria, on Evia Island, Greece, on Tuesday

Firefighters and local volunteers took part in efforts to extinguish the flames near the village of Avgaria, on Evia Island, Greece, on Tuesday

Volunteers assist firefighters trying to extinguish blazes on Greece's Evia Island on Tuesday, as the flames continued to be fanned by strong winds and hot weather

Volunteers assist firefighters trying to extinguish blazes on Greece’s Evia Island on Tuesday, as the flames continued to be fanned by strong winds and hot weather

Images coming from Evia have at-time seemed hopeless as residents battled to save their homes using tree branches – hitting out flames due to water shortages.

But some were refusing to evacuate on Tuesday, mounting a desperate defence of their livelihoods using whatever they could lay their hands on with no sign of fire crews.

‘The villagers themselves, with the firefighters, are doing what they can to save their own and neighboring villages,’ Yiannis Katsikoyiannis, a volunteer from Crete who came to Evia to help his father save his horse farm near the village of Avgaria in the island’s north, said Monday.

‘If they had evacuated their villages, as the civil protection told them to, everything would have been burned down – perhaps even two days sooner,’ he said. 

‘Of course, they never saw any water-dropping aircraft. And of course now the conditions are wrong for them to fly, due to the smoke.’

But Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias told reporters the state did everything possible as it fought 586 wildfires that broke out over the course of eight days amid the worst heatwave in 30 years.

“Do not shoot the fighters in the hour of battle. Every home lost for us is a stab in the heart,” Hardalias said. “The losses we suffered involved fighters, not civilians.”

One volunteer firefighter has died and three others have been hospitalised.

The fire brigade was bracing for a pick up in winds from Tuesday afternoon which could cause more flare ups on Greece’s second largest island, amid fears other fronts on the Peloponnese could also be reignited. 

The government is due to announce fast-track relief measures for those who have lost homes and property – but for some villagers, leaving their houses to the flames turning the skies a deep red was not an option.

‘Police came and told us to evacuate the village of Avgaria but we cannot, this is our property. We cannot let our homes burn,’ said Ioannis Aggelopoulos, 55, who owns a car body shop at Istiaia, on the island’s northern tip.

‘We haven’t slept in three days, we have been sleeping in shifts.’

Villager Ioanna Metaksioti, 59, joined the patrol: ‘We are very afraid, but we have to stay.’ 

Prime Minister Mitsotakis will chair a cabinet meeting later in the day and his government will announce specific relief measures for those who lost homes, farms and property as authorities began counting the cost in lost homes and livelihoods. 

On Monday he approved a 500 million-euro budget for aid for Evia and the Attica region around Athens. 

Such is the extent of the destruction the only way it can be captured in its entirety is from space – with EU weather satellites revealing how fires have scorched their way from one side of Evia island to the other.    

The Athens National Observatory estimated about 650,000 hectares had been burned and 1,000 homes destroyed by the flames until Sunday, with that figure rising as the blazes continue.   

A helicopter responds the wildfires in the island of Evia, Greece on Tuesday as firefighters braced for a pick up in winds from the afternoon which could cause more flare ups on Greece's second largest island

A helicopter responds the wildfires in the island of Evia, Greece on Tuesday as firefighters braced for a pick up in winds from the afternoon which could cause more flare ups on Greece’s second largest island

A firefighter from Slovakia adjusts his helmet as he prepares to tackle flames on Greece's Evia Island on Tuesday morning

A firefighter from Slovakia adjusts his helmet as he prepares to tackle flames on Greece’s Evia Island on Tuesday morning

A Slovakian firefighter cools himself down while tackling the blazes near Avgaria village on Evia Island on Tuesday morning

A Slovakian firefighter cools himself down while tackling the blazes near Avgaria village on Evia Island on Tuesday morning

Algeria has become the latest Mediterranean country hit with wildfires after over 31 blazes broke out amid blistering temperatures and tinder-dry conditions, officials said on Tuesday

Algeria has become the latest Mediterranean country hit with wildfires after over 31 blazes broke out amid blistering temperatures and tinder-dry conditions, officials said on Tuesday

At least seven people have died in the fires as temperatures reached 46C (115F), six in the region around Tizi Ouzou and one in Setif

At least seven people have died in the fires as temperatures reached 46C (115F), six in the region around Tizi Ouzou and one in Setif

Fires were reported in multiple locations in 14 districts, 10 of them around Tizi Ouzou, one of the most populous cities in Kabylie. Major fires were also reported in Jijel, Bejaia, Bouira, Guelma, Khenchela and Setif

Fires were reported in multiple locations in 14 districts, 10 of them around Tizi Ouzou, one of the most populous cities in Kabylie. Major fires were also reported in Jijel, Bejaia, Bouira, Guelma, Khenchela and Setif

Hundreds of residents have been forced to flee hellish scenes as hillsides turned to walls of fire – bundled on to boats while smoke filled the air and water-carrying helicopters circled overhead. 

Almost 1,000 firefighters, nine aircraft and 200 vehicles have been sent to Greece from other European countries to help.

Mitsotakis promised that forests destroyed by the fires would be restored and climate defences would be built up. 

On Evia alone, almost half a million acres of tinder-dry forest has been torched while at least 1,000 homes have been burned to the ground in the village of Mantoudi, Greek news site Protothema reported.

George Stamoulos, deputy mayor of the settlement, said fire crews had been abandoned by the government who ignored his pleas to send aircraft to help fight the flames. ‘[I was] a voice roaring in the desert,’ he said.

It was a sentiment echoed by David Angelou, a local who had to be evacuated from the seaside town of Pefki by ferry as the flames closed in, saying: ‘We were completely forsaken.’

‘There were no fire brigades, there were no vehicles, nothing,’ he added. ‘You could feel the enormous heat, there was also a lot of smoke. You could see the sun, a red ball, and then, nothing else around.’

Firefighters said there are hopes that Evia’s fire could be brought under control today as flames which have torn across the entire island finally reach the sea and run out of forest to burn.

Giannis Kontzias, mayor of the town of Istiaia, reported: ‘The situation with the fires has started to normalise, since one by one the fronts went out in the sea.’

But others fear that the crisis is far from over, with Mr Stamoulos warning of the risk of flooding and landslides even once the flames have finally been extinguished.

Landslides often follow in the footsteps of forest fires because plant roots that typically hold the soil together are burned away, leaving the ground unstable and liable to shift.

The risk of flash flooding also increases because the heat from fires bakes the ground in places, causing it to repel rather than absorb water. 

The wildfires have stretched Greece’s firefighting capabilities to the limit, and the government has appealed for help from abroad. 

More than 20 countries have responded, sending planes, helicopters, vehicles and manpower. 

Greece’s Civil Protection chief, Nikos Hardalias, has stressed that firefighters have been doing everything they can.

Wildfires also broke out in Turkey after temperatures soared to 46C and crews are still trying to extinguish blazes in five locations in the coastal province of Mugla, in the country's southwest

Wildfires also broke out in Turkey after temperatures soared to 46C and crews are still trying to extinguish blazes in five locations in the coastal province of Mugla, in the country’s southwest

A firefighter carries a hosepipe as they extinguish a wildfire in Koycegiz, Mugla, on Monday after Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said on the Sunday 'the situation is improving'

A firefighter carries a hosepipe as they extinguish a wildfire in Koycegiz, Mugla, on Monday after Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said on the Sunday ‘the situation is improving’

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come under withering criticism for being slow or unwilling to accept some offers of foreign assistance after revealing that Turkey had no functioning firefighting planes. Pictured: Flames tear through the village of Ikizce in Turkey on August 6

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come under withering criticism for being slow or unwilling to accept some offers of foreign assistance after revealing that Turkey had no functioning firefighting planes. Pictured: Flames tear through the village of Ikizce in Turkey on August 6

A fire lit up the sky in the forest in Senyayla village near the tourist resort of Marmaris, in Mugla, Turkey, on Saturday

A fire lit up the sky in the forest in Senyayla village near the tourist resort of Marmaris, in Mugla, Turkey, on Saturday

Firefighters continue to battle the 17 wildfires that have broken out across southern Turkey. Four people are dead

Firefighters continue to battle the 17 wildfires that have broken out across southern Turkey. Four people are dead

Algeria has become the latest Mediterranean country hit with wildfires after over 31 blazes broke out amid blistering temperatures and tinder-dry conditions, officials said on Tuesday.

At least seven people have died in the fires as temperatures reached 46C (115F), six in the region around Tizi Ouzou and one in Setif.  

Photographs posted on social media show huge walls of flame and billowing clouds of smoke towering over villages in the forested hills of the Kabylie region, east of the capital Algiers, as officials warned the country faces severe water shortages.

Fires were reported in multiple locations in 14 districts, 10 of them around Tizi Ouzou, one of the most populous cities in Kabylie. Major fires were also reported in Jijel, Bejaia, Bouira, Guelma, Khenchela and Setif. 

Several major fires in recent years have been blamed on arson and public radio reported three suspects were arrested in Medea.   

Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud said: ‘Fifty fires starting at the same time is impossible. These fires are of criminal origin’.   

Last month, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune ordered a bill to stiffen punishments for starting a forest fire, with sentences of up to 30 years in prison – and possible life imprisonment, if the fire results in death. 

In July, three people were arrested on suspicion of starting fires that devastated 15 square kilometres (six square miles) of forest in the Aures mountains.

While in 2020, nearly 440 square kilometres (170 square miles) of forest were destroyed by fire, and several people were arrested on suspicion of arson. 

Fires have been driven by a heatwave that saw temperatures in Greece soar to 45C (113F), the country’s hottest summer in three decades which scientists warn is being driven by climate change. 

Similar temperatures have been recorded in neighbouring Turkey where fires have also taken hold, with crews still trying to extinguish blazes in five locations in the coastal province of Mugla, in the country’s southwest.

‘The situation is improving,’ Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said late on Sunday. ‘It is too soon to say the fires are under control, but we are reaching that point.’

Meanwhile western Europe has also seen some of its worst flooding in recent years this year, which scientists say is also the result of climate change. 

More than 100 people died across Germany and Belgium after three months of rain fell in just a few hours last month, washing away entire towns and leaving thousands homeless. 

A helicopter dumps water onto the burning forests in Mugla, Turkey on August 5. In coastal Mugla province, where the tourist destinations of Bodrum and Marmaris are located, fires continued to burn in three areas on Friday, officials said

A helicopter dumps water onto the burning forests in Mugla, Turkey on August 5. In coastal Mugla province, where the tourist destinations of Bodrum and Marmaris are located, fires continued to burn in three areas on Friday, officials said

Ground and aerial fire extinguishing operations continue to contain the fire in Milas district of Mugla on August 5

Ground and aerial fire extinguishing operations continue to contain the fire in Milas district of Mugla on August 5

Smoke rises as firefighters continued works on extinguishing the forest fire that broke out in Mugla's Marmaris district on Thursday

Smoke rises as firefighters continued works on extinguishing the forest fire that broke out in Mugla’s Marmaris district on Thursday

A drone photo shows the affected areas in Bodrum and Milas districts following the forest fire in Mugla province of Turkey on Monday

A drone photo shows the affected areas in Bodrum and Milas districts following the forest fire in Mugla province of Turkey on Monday

Calls to finally tackle climate change after decades of inaction are now gathering pace, with the UN releasing a report today that warns the world is already experiencing the effects – which are set to get rapidly worse. 

It highlighted how scientists are quantifying the extent to which human-induced warming increases the intensity and/or likelihood of a specific extreme weather event, such as a heatwave, drought, or a wildfire.

The Earth is likely to warm by 1.5C within the next 20 years – a decade earlier than previously expected – the bombshell report dubbed a ‘code red for humanity’ warned.

Scientists had expected temperatures to rise by 1.5C above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052 but now believe it will happen between this year and 2040. 

The world’s largest ever report into climate change also said it was ‘unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land’. 

Since 1970, global surface temperatures have risen faster than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years, the authors said, while the past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850.

‘It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,’ said report co-author Linda Mearns, a senior climate scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research. ‘I don’t see any area that is safe… Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.’ 

If temperatures continue to rise, there could be devastating effects here on Earth, including a dramatic loss of sea-life, an ice-free Arctic and more regular 'extreme' weather

If temperatures continue to rise, there could be devastating effects here on Earth, including a dramatic loss of sea-life, an ice-free Arctic and more regular ‘extreme’ weather



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