Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has blamed the nation’s devastating wildfires on climate change as firefighters waged a round-the-clock battle to save the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, and the site where the flame lighting ceremonies for the modern summer and winter Olympics are held every two years.
On August 5th fires also drew dangerously closer to Greece’s Tatoi Palace, once used by the former Greek royal family, with The Greek Ministry of Culture ordering a full evacuation to save documents and objects of great value that are kept in the Palace. On August 6th, the wind direction changed and the blaze began to move away from the palace, which is currently out of immediate danger.
Fuelled by the worst heatwave since 1987, areas north of Athens and in southern Greece are under the greatest threat from the fires.
As flames approached, fire crews went house-to-house to escort residents out of homes some 20 kilometres north of Athens, whilst at the same time fire threatened the power supply to parts of the capital after damaging the transmission network.
Dozens of villages and settlements have been evacuated, including a beachside campsite and hotels on Evia, where boats were used to transport stranded vacationers to safety.
Additional support has arrived from Greece’s military and also from the EU which sent 40 French firefighters and tonnes of material to help Greece’s emergency efforts as additional water-dropping planes and helicopters swoop over fires.
In a televised address Mr Mitsotakis said the devastating scenes reveal “the reality of climate change”.
The Greek leader said that the steps taken so far by the state on climate change “are not enough when you have in front of you a natural phenomenon of such magnitude.”
“If there are even few people who have reservations about whether climate change is real, I call on them to come here and see,” he said from Ilia, where the flames had threatened Ancient Olympia.
“Our priority is always the protection of human life, followed by the protection of property, the natural environment and critical infrastructure,” Mr Mitsotakis said.
“Unfortunately, under these circumstances, achieving all these aims at the same time is simply impossible.”
Mitsotakis said that emergency services faced dangerous times ahead as westerly winds are expected.
“Unfortunately the worst is yet to come,” he said.
The prime minister said six regions had been placed on red alert and asked all Greeks “to limit unnecessary travel and be extremely careful. If an evacuation order is issued from an area, please comply.”
“Houses are being rebuilt and trees will sprout again but human life cannot be replaced,” Mitsotakis said.
A heatwave baking southeast Europe for a second week has also triggered deadly fires in Turkey and Albania and blazes across the region.
North Macedonia’s government on Thursday declared the country in a state of crisis for the next 30 days due to wildfires.
The EU Commissioner for the environment, Virginijus Sinkevicius, said the fires and extreme weather globally over the northern hemisphere summer were a clear signal for the need to address climate change.
“We are fighting some of the worst wildfires we’ve seen in decades. But this summer’s floods, heatwaves and forest fires can become our new normality,” he wrote in a tweet.
“We must ask ourselves: Is this the world we want to live in?
“We need immediate actions for nature before it’s too late.”