Thousands of desperate residents of the burning Greek island of Euboea looked like the ‘living dead’ on Sunday, the twelfth day of a wave of wildfires in Greece and Turkey that devoured their villages and lands.
“The fighting continues”, announcing “another difficult night” for the Greeks and for the firefighters, Greek Deputy Minister of Civil Defense Nikos Hardalias announced.
While most of the fire in Turkey was brought under control on Sunday, the disaster on the island of Euboea, the second largest in Greece, remained the most worrying in the country.
“We have experienced fires, but this situation is unheard of,” said Nikos Papioanou, a resident of Gouwes, before evacuating his village surrounded by flames.
Under fire for six days, this tongue of land between Attica and the Aegean Sea offered an apocalyptic panorama. Along the roads, residents sprinkled water on their land while flames engulfed the densely forested areas.
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Greece and Turkey have been experiencing an extraordinary heatwave for almost two weeks. The fire caused by extreme temperatures has killed eight people in Turkey, two in Greece as well as dozens of hospital patients.
At the gates of Athens, the disaster that destroyed dozens of homes and businesses was overcome on Sunday, but “the risk of resurgence is high”, warned Hardalias.
A helicopter was sent on Sunday to hoist a wounded firefighter from a forest in northern Athens, where he was again battling the fire.
According to firefighters, on the Ionian island of Zante, where a small fire broke out, a water bomber crashed in the operation without causing any casualties.
On both sides of the Aegean Sea, firefighters doused flames in Turkey’s Mugla region and the Greek Peloponnese peninsula, where the situation stabilized on Sunday.
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But the main nightmare of the Greek authorities remains the vast mountainous island of Euboea, its villages reduced to ashes and its dense pine forests burned.
“How long will this play last?” Former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras tweeted. “North Evia has been burning for six days. Local officials and residents cry that they are desperately alone,” said the leader of the left-wing opposition, like many, condemning the lack of air and land resources.
“The forces are not enough” and “the situation is dire”, also attacked Giorgos Kelatzidis, the deputy governor of Euboea.
According to him, at least 35,000 hectares and hundreds of houses have been burnt.
The Greek government nevertheless assures us that “the ground and the air force are fighting a great battle without interruption”. But air assets are facing “serious difficulties” due to turbulence, thick smoke and limited visibility, Hardalia said.
Despite the rugged terrain, about 500 firefighters continued their fierce fight against the fires in the north of the island, from east to west, shrouded in a thick cloud of black and orange smoke, an AFP team found.
According to the Greek fire services, among them are about 200 firefighters from Ukraine and Romania, reinforced by seventeen water bombers and helicopters.
France, which has already delivered three Canadians and 80 firefighters stationed north of Athens, announced on Sunday the dispatch of “additional resources: two One Fire Columns composed of 160 personnel and more than 50 vehicles” Will be on site initially. At the end of the week, Interior Minister Gerald Darmin tweeted.
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Estimated at thirty km, “The front is huge. We are trying to save the village, but the means are insufficient,” lamented Nikos Papioanou, a resident of Gouwes. “It’s dramatic. We’ll all end up in the ocean”.
Some 2,000 islanders were evacuated by boat and transferred to hotels.
In Yuboa, “the destruction of the region will cause 40,000 people to be living dead for the next few years,” Istiya resident Iraklis said in despair on Open TV.
Yanis Selimis, a resident of Gouvais, also thinks that “there will be no more work for the next 40 years”.
In a village where many people live off their land, the young man believes that “the state is absent. If people leave, the village will burn (…)
Nassos Iliopoulos, spokesman for the main opposition Syriza, criticized “North Avia is almost wiped off the map.” Given the “grave responsibilities”, he said, “It is sad to see so many fires go out of control for days.”
According to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), more than 70,000 hectares have been burned in Greece at this point in 2021, including 56,000 in the past ten days. On average, about 1,700 hectares were burned during these ten summer days between 2008 and 2020.
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