The devastating week-long scale of destruction of forest fires in Greece and Italy was being assessed as the EU mounted one of its largest firefighting operations and smoke from the forest fires in Siberia reached the North Pole.
As UN experts said on Monday that global warming was progressing faster than feared and that humanity was “unequivocally” to blame, firefighters and local residents battled massive fires on the island of Evia, east of Athens. , for the seventh consecutive day.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized for the failures in addressing the fires in a televised address to the nation. He said that the burned areas would be reforested with more fire-resistant trees and that compensation would be paid out of an emergency aid fund of 500 million euros.
Mitsotakis said 586 fires had broken out last week “in all corners of Greece” and that the resulting destruction had “darkened the hearts of all of us.” He praised the professionalism of the emergency services, but acknowledged the “errors of judgment” and said: “I personally want to apologize for the weaknesses that have emerged.”
So far, more than 2,600 people have been evacuated from Evia, the country’s second-largest island, in a flotilla of ships, and the elderly and infirm have been forced overnight Sunday to seek shelter on ferries or sleep in sunbeds on the beach.
Greek media reported that several previously extinguished fires had been rekindled in Evia and were moving at high speed towards even more villages and the 7,000-strong town of Istaia.
Wildfires have devastated large areas in southern Europe as the region endures its most extreme heat wave in three decades. Twelve people have died in Greece, Turkey and Italy, and many more have been injured. Huge fires have also been burning in Siberia, in northern Russia, for several weeks.
A Russian weather monitor said Monday that the wildfires raging Siberia were getting worse as NASA satellite images showed smoke from burning forests traveling 1,850 miles (3,000 km) to reach the North Pole, calling it “the first to recorded history “.
The Rosgidromet meteorological monitoring institute said nearly 3.4 million hectares were burning in Yakutia, Russia’s largest and coldest region, which sits above permafrost. Russia’s forestry agency said this year’s fires have devastated more than 14 million hectares, making it the second worst fire season since the turn of the century.
Greece has experienced a rolling summer of heat waves with prolonged and unprecedented periods of temperatures above 45 ° C. Hopes for a respite after a drop in temperatures over the weekend were short-lived, and meteorologists they predicted that the country would be in a heat wave again starting Monday, with winds also picking up.
Firefighters backed by reinforcements from 22 nations were fighting Monday to put out the reignited fires in the southern Peloponnese, eastern Mani and Crete, as officials from the capital Athens, devastated by the fires now extinguished on its northern fringes, they began to assess the damage. .
At least 300 homes were estimated to have been destroyed by the fires, which also target untold numbers of businesses, farms, and forest land. In Evia, more than 50,000 hectares of pine forest caught fire, while the destruction in the Peloponnese is described as incalculable.
The Greek firefighting forces have clearly been overwhelmed, prompting two dozen countries to send aid. France, Cyprus, Sweden, Spain, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Romania have sent nine planes, almost 1,000 firefighters and 200 vehicles to Greece, and Germany, Poland, Austria and Slovakia have made more offers of help over the weekend.
EU countries have dispatched 14 firefighting aircraft and 1,300 rescuers to help put out the devastating fires in the Mediterranean.
“We are mobilizing one of the largest common firefighting operations in Europe, as several fires affect several countries simultaneously,” said EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič. The UK announced on Saturday that it would also send firefighters to help Greece deal with the huge fires.
In Athens, the center-right Mitsotakis administration has come under fire from local officials and people on the ground for a response that has at times seemed chaotic. The mayors of Evia have criticized the authorities for providing insufficient aid.
“We have been shouting but they have not been listening,” Giorgos Stamoulos, the deputy mayor of Mantoudi, told Greek television on Monday. “In total, our municipality extends over 5,840 hectares and 4,500 have been burned. About 1,000 homes have burned. Where is [the government] are you going to put all those people who have no home? “
With the fires looming, Greek islanders in remote communities have begged to be taken out by air. Others have been filmed desperately trying to save their property with little more than garden hoses and buckets.
With the government prioritizing public safety three years after the Mati spa fires killed 202 people, there has been little loss of life, but hospitalizations and injuries are becoming more frequent. Four volunteer firefighters suffered severe burns and two of them are said to be in critical condition.
In Italy, the civil protection authority warned on Monday of more fires as temperatures in some parts of the country hit 45 ° C. Firefighters have dealt with 44,442 wildfires in Italy since June 15, compared to the 26,158 last summer, and the majority occurred in Sicily, followed by Puglia, Calabria and Sardinia.
The most extreme fires are in the southern region of Calabria, where two people were reported to have died. On Sunday, almost 10 hectares of pine forest caught fire in the national park around Mount Vesuvius in Campania, while in Molise, hotels and holiday homes in the spa of Campomarino Lodi were evacuated.
Forecasters said the heat wave was an “extreme event with little precedent.” Fabrizio Curcio, the head of Italy’s civil protection authority, said the worst could be over, but warned that rising temperatures mean vigilance is vital.
“We work tirelessly to contain the fires, but we ask citizens for the utmost cooperation and caution,” Curcio said. “It is essential to avoid any behavior that could start fires and to report even the smallest ones immediately.”