In more resounding scenes of war, trained firefighters backed by a motley army of locals fought a “superhuman” battle overnight to extinguish the windswept fires that raged for the eighth day on the Greek island of Evia.
With another village ordered to be evacuated Tuesday, a multinational force of nearly 900 firefighters was on the scene in a desperate attempt to stop the conflagration engulfing the northern city of Istiaia.
The fire service said that in addition to 873 firefighters, 50 ground crews and 229 vehicles were fighting the blaze.
In tinderbox conditions created by unprecedented summer temperatures, Greece has been in the eye of a wildfire storm also witnessed in Italy and Turkey.
In a televised speech late Monday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it was clear that the country was enduring “a natural disaster of unprecedented dimensions.” He said firefighters were forced to deal with 586 fires set and exacerbated by a heat wave that is expected to intensify again this week. Mitsotakis has said that the crisis reflects the reality of climate change.
“These past few days have been the hardest for our country in decades,” said the leader, who apologized for failures in what has been an often chaotic response to the emergency.
The hells on Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, have been by far the worst in the country, decimating vast tracts of pristine pine forests and destroying untold numbers of homes. In Mantoudi municipality, more than 1,000 homes have been burned, and communities further north now face the same prospect if the fires are not put out.
In Evia and the southern Peloponnese, where hells have also been unleashed, the phenomenon of fires rekindling after being previously extinguished has hampered efforts as flames, driven by unpredictable winds, have come to life.
“We are talking about 30-meter-high flames appearing suddenly,” a woman from Evia told state broadcaster ERT, while her husband lamented the absence of planes and helicopters to drop water to the rescue.
Smoke and ash covered skies hampered the visibility of pilots from the 22 nations who have intervened with aid. Yesterday, Turkey and Russia said they would also send planes to boost reinforcements already sent by Europe, Middle Eastern countries, the United Kingdom and the United States.
In the absence of aircraft over Evia, bulldozers could be seen early Tuesday creating firebreaks in the forests. Since the crisis began last week with the forested suburbs on the northern outskirts of Athens ablaze, local people have been seen using everything they can, from garden hoses to rudimentary buckets, to protect their homes.
By Monday, some 2,600 people had been evacuated from Evia in a flotilla of boats, and elderly and sick people were forced to seek shelter on ferries or sleep in loungers on the beach.
Aware of the devastating fires that killed 103 people in the coastal cities of Mati and Kokkino Limanaki in July 2018, the government has prioritized saving lives. But some residents say evacuation orders have been premature and have only allowed properties and old-growth forests that would otherwise have been saved to catch fire.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism