Advancing flames have devoured forests and homes as wildfires that have killed 20 people raged across swaths of Greece.
Greece’s largest forest fire was burning out of control for the fifth day on Wednesday near the city of Alexandroupolis in the northeast. Another major blaze on the outskirts of Athens torched homes, reducing some to piles of smoking rubble and encroached into the national park on Mount Parnitha, one of the last green areas near the Greek capital.
From Friday to Tuesday, 355 wildfires broke out, Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said. On Wednesday, firefighters were tackling 99 blazes, fire department spokesman Ioannis Artopios said in an evening briefing, including 55 that had broken out in the previous 24 hours.
Authorities made 140 wildfire-related arrests, including 117 for negligence and 23 for deliberate arson, Artopios said, adding that nearly all were for heat-inducing or agricultural outdoor work.
Gale-force winds combined with hot, dry weather to whip up the flames, making the blazes exceptionally difficult to bring under control, authorities said.
Weather conditions this summer have been “the worst since meteorological data have been gathered and the fire risk map has been issued in the country,” Kikilias told a news conference. Extensive parts of Greece have been placed at level five, the highest for fire risk, seven times this year, which Kikilias said was double the number of 2021, four times that of 2019 and seven times more than in 2012.
Authorities issued dozens of evacuation orders for villages, Alexandroupolis’s outskirts and seaside areas, with the coastguard and private boats plucking some people from beaches and coasts.
With firefighting forces stretched to the limit, Greece asked other European countries for assistance. Germany, Sweden, Croatia and Cyprus sent water-dropping aircraft. Romanian, French and Czech firefighters helped on the ground.
European Union officials have blamed climate change for the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires in Europe, noting that 2022 was the second worst year for wildfire damage on record after 2017.