A volunteer firefighter has been killed in a blaze threatening the Greek capital’s most important national park, and at least 20 people have been injured in fires during the country’s worst heatwave in 30 years, with temperatures of up to 45C (113F).
Thousands of residents and holidaymakers have fled from the flames by land and sea, while in Turkey fires of a ferocity not seen in decades tore through swaths of the country’s southern coast, killing eight people over the past 10 days.
Wildfires that could not be controlled consumed homes, farms and businesses in Greece on Saturday, while small ferries evacuated 1,153 people from a seaside village and beaches on the island of Evia.
Residents tried to create new pathways for the flames with the help of tractors and other equipment, after fires devoured pine forests and moved towards the coast.
More than 150 fires have been reported, and in the northern outskirts of Athens people were being urged to evacuate.
A 38-year-old volunteer firefighter in Athens was killed after sustaining a head injury from a falling telegraph pole in the suburb of Ippokrateios Politeia.
At least 20 people have required treatment across the country, including two firefighters who were in intensive care.
After ripping through forests and houses near the capital’s main water reservoir, flames approached the Mount Parnitha national park, one of the last remaining big forests in the Athens region.
Another blaze was encroaching on the Greek region of Mani in the Peloponnese on Saturday, where the deputy mayor of East Mani, Eleni Drakoulakou, pleaded for more support from water-dropping aircraft, which struggle to fly at night, and told the state broadcaster ERT that 70% of her area had been destroyed.
“It’s a biblical catastrophe. We’re talking about three-quarters of the municipality,” she said.
The infernos, fanned by winds that often changed direction on Friday, became unmanageable for Greece. Efforts are now being supported by firefighters and special aircraft from France, Ukraine, Cyprus, Croatia, Sweden and Israel. More help was expected to arrive on Saturday from Switzerland and Romania.
The civil protection chief, Nikos Hardalias, speaking during a Friday evening briefing, said firefighters faced “exceptionally dangerous, unprecedented conditions” as they battled 154 wildfires this week, with 64 still burning into the night.
“Over the past few days, we have been facing a situation without precedent in our country, in the intensity and wide distribution of the wildfires, and the new outbreaks all over,” he said. “I want to assure you that all forces available are taking part in the fight.”
While wildfires are a common occurrence in Greece and other countries in the Mediterranean at the height of summer, Greek and EU officials have voiced concern over the climate crisis exacerbating the problem.
Southern Italy, Spain and Albania and North Macedonia have also been plagued by forest fires this hot season, while the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, described the fires in Turkey as the worst in the country’s history.
The causes of Greece’s devastating fires are still under investigation. Hardalias said three people were arrested on Friday in the greater Athens area and central and southern Greece on suspicion of starting blazes, in two cases intentionally.