Wildfires cause further devastation in Turkey, Greece

Death toll in Turkey rises to eight, Greeks hospitalised with respiratory problems and many left homeless.

Blazes broke out across several provinces in Turkey last week, fanned by strong winds and scorching temperatures [AP Photo]
Blazes broke out across several provinces in Turkey last week, fanned by strong winds and scorching temperatures [AP Photo]

The death toll from six straight days of wildfires in Turkey has risen to eight, while in neighbouring Greece, firefighters were attempting to contain a blaze that has destroyed houses and hospitalised more than a dozen people.

The Turkish fires have been fuelled by a southern European heatwave fed by hot air from North Africa, which has also seen chaos grip other parts of the Mediterranean in recent days.

Experts have warned that climate change is increasing both the frequency and intensity of wildfires.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned on Monday that Greece is suffering its worst heatwave since 1987 as forecasters said temperatures could reach 45 degrees in the coming days.

The intense heat has helped fan wildfires that have destroyed more than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of pine and olive groves in the country’s west since Saturday.

Elsewhere in Europe, more than 800 flare-ups were recorded over the weekend in Italy, mainly in the south, the country’s fire brigade said. A second straight day of wildfires in Sicily on Saturday forced people to leave their homes and saw the local Catania airport temporarily shut down.

In Spain, firefighters backed by waterbomber aircraft battled a wildfire that broke out Saturday near the San Juan reservoir, about 70km (40 miles) east of Madrid. That blaze was stabilised overnight but authorities urged people to stay away from the reservoir, a popular bathing spot for residents of the Spanish capital.

Chandra Bhushan, chief executive officer of the non-profit International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology (iFOREST) research organisation, said the wildfires were linked with extreme temperatures, a longer drought period, a low level of humidity and high wind speeds.

“There are climatic conditions being created which are so favourable for wildfires, that is why you are seeing all these incidents happening in the Mediterranean region,” Bhushan told Al Jazeera.

“And all of them can be linked to climate change.”

Turkey

In Turkey, two people died on Sunday in the Mediterranean coastal city of Manavgat, raising the town’s death toll to at least seven, Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca said.

In recent days, at least one person has also died in Marmaris.

Twenty-seven people were still being treated in hospitals in impacted areas, while thousands have been evacuated from their homes.

Scores of fires across several provinces on Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts broke out last Wednesday, fanned by strong winds and scorching temperatures.

While the majority have been extinguished, responders were still tacking seven blazes in the coastal provinces of Antalya and Mugla – popular tourist areas, and in Tunceli, southeast Turkey.

Many villagers have lost properties and farm animals, while locals and tourists have fled vacation resorts in boats.

The wildfires are the worst of their kind in at least a decade, with nearly 95,000 hectares (235,000 acres) burned so far this year, compared with an average of 13,516 at the same point in the years between 2008 and 2020.

Support teams from Russia, Ukraine, Iran and Azerbaijan have been deployed to help Turkish firefighters.

Planes from Spain are expected to arrive on Tuesday while one from Croatia will join efforts on Monday, an EU official said.

Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar, reporting from Manavgat, said “international efforts and solidarity” were ramping up amid the crisis.

“Turkey is going through its worst forest fires in its modern history now,” he said.

Serdar added that Turkish experts had suggested it was “very possible” the blazes were triggered by climate change and global warming.

Blazes grip Greece

In Greece, firefighters on Monday tried to contain a wildfire burning in the western region of Patras that destroyed homes and left 15 people in hospital with breathing problems after erupting over the weekend, local authorities said.

Five villages in the area, which sits about 210km (130 miles) west of the capital, Athens, were evacuated.

The mayor of nearby village Aigialeias, Dimitris Kalogeropoulos, called the situation “an immense catastrophe”.

Flames consumed approximately 30 houses, barns and stables in the villages of Ziria, Kamares, Achaias and Labiri.

“We slept outside overnight, terrified that we would not have a house when we woke up,” a Labiri resident told Greek TV station Skai.

Firefighters were also tackling a blaze on the island of Rhodes, near the Turkish coast.

Authorities said they were optimistic the fire was on the back foot as of Monday after more firefighters and resources were deployed overnight.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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