Greek Wildfires Return

New wildfires continue on Wednesday 23rd August 2023 with a huge cloud of smoke covering the port city of Alexandroupolis and the Evros region in North-Eastern Greece.  A titanic effort to put out the fire continues for a fifth day, which is spreading due to the strong gale-force winds in the Evros area.  5 Canadair aircraft and 8 helicopters are assisting 220 firefighters with 59 fire-engines to help fight the blaze.  The devastating fires prompted the evacuation of the university hospital in Alexandroupolis, forcing the relocation of 65 patients, including newborn babies, to a ferry docked at the city's harbour, with nine villages being evacuated in the surrounding area.  The fire near Alexandroupolis threatens the national park of Dadia, a crucially important European protected area known for its rare birds of prey.

Many people, including the Mayor of Alexandroupoli, confirmed that the massive wildfire in the Evros region was started by lightning.  On Monday 21st August, Greek officials said the body of a man was recovered in the Central Boeotia region, that he died of smoke inhalation while trying to save his sheep.  On the same day, another man was found dead in a forest in the Evros region. 

Tragically, on Tuesday 22nd August, the charred bodies of 18 individuals including two minors, suspected of being migrants, were found in a forest fire near the Turkish border, north of Alexandroupolis.  As no local residents were reported missing, the possibility that the victims were unauthorised entrants into the country is now under investigation.  These reported deaths contribute to a total of 20 fatalities from the ongoing fires this week.  Greek authorities are investigating the cause of 65 wildfires that started almost simultaneously in several regions, including 15 of these fires in the Evros region alone.  Over 75,000 acres of forest has being burned by more fires started in the Dadia region, where authorities note that many immigrant smuggling routes go through these forests to reach Greece from Turkey. 

A fire that started on Tuesday 22nd August near the Kleiston Monastery in Fyli has reached the Mount Parnitha national park, on the outskirts of Athens, covering the Greek capital with smoke.  A total of 220 firefighters with 77 fire-engines are operating in the area, assisted by 6 Canadair aircraft and 7 helicopters, supported by volunteers and machines of the army and local administration.

Leonidas Rodis, a resident of Fyli, went viral on the internet by saving numerous dogs, donkeys and horses from the oncoming wildfire spreading towards Parnitha.  Sadly, thousands of farm, domestic, stray and wild animals have been killed by the wildfires over the past months.  Animal rescue volunteers have been confronted with death in all its forms, with endless charred carcasses of cows, goats, sheep, pigs, geese, chickens and rabbits.  Bodies of domestic dogs and cats have been found, that had probably run away in fear as their owners were evacuated from their scorched homes.  The total number of wild animals, birds and bees that must have perished in the forest fires will never be known.  Hundreds of thousands will have died from the smoke and flames trying to escape the deadly infernos.

The Civil Protection Minister confirmed that there had been several attempts by arsonists to start new fires on Mount Parnitha, north-west of Athens. Greece has called out 'arsonist scum' after police made 79 arson arrests over wildfires raveging the country. 

On Thursday 24th August, police arrested and detained 13 Pakistani and Syrian illegal migrants with attempted arson near the city of Alexandroupolis in the Evros region.  A felony charge was brought against a local Albanian businessman, as well as two Greek men who assisted him, in preventing the alleged fire and detaining the 13 migrants in a car-trailer whilst a police patrol arrived.

The Fire Brigade found and collected the charred body of a man on Thursday afternoon on a rural road at Dadia National Park, the body was transferred to the University Hospital of Alexandroupolis morgue.  That is now the 20th human fatality in the Evros region.

Ongoing wildfires in Evros and Alexandroupolis are declared the largest in EU history, as they continued to burn for the 18th day.  The wildfires are said to be 'uncontrollable', as 586 firefighters with 129 fire-engines, assisted by 10 Canadair water-dropping aircraft and 7 Erikson helicopters struggle against the massive blaze heading towards the Dadia National Park.  The fire that started on Saturday 19th August has decimated homes and vast tracts of forest, with residents on stand-by for possible evacuation.  The wildfire was gradually abating on Monday 4th September, although hundreds of firefighters were still tackling pockets that continue to burn.  More reinforcements were sent in over the weekend, bringing the total number of firefighters to 741.

Last month, during July, devastating wildfires wrecked havoc in Central Greece and the islands, leading to a compulsory evacuation of over 20,000 tourists from the resort island of Rhodes.  Shortly thereafter, a Canadair CL-215 water-bombing aircraft operated by the Hellenic Air Force crashed while fighting a blaze on the island of Evia, with the loss of two air force pilots’ lives.  Over 600 fires swept across Greece, scorching hundreds of square miles of land and leaving thousands of tourists stranded.  Recent extreme heat in the Mediterranean region saw temperatures hover between 39°C and 45°C, which experts have blamed on climate change for the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires within Greece and other Mediterranean countries.