Greece's Climate Crisis Minister slams "arsonist scum"

Vassilis Kikilias Greece climate

The Greek Minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection described those who stated blazes as "arsonist scum" as firefighters battle wildfires raging across swathes of Greece that have killed at least 20 people.

There were nine arson attempts within four hours on Thursday morning in the Avlona area in the northern foothills of Mount Parnitha, some 30 miles north of Athens, according to Greek Minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Vassilis Kikilias.

"Arsonist scum are setting fires that threaten forests, property and, most of all, human lives," Kikilias said in a televised statement on Thursday. "You are committing a crime against the country. You will not get away with it. We will find you and you will be held accountable."

Authorities have made 140 wildfire-related arrests so far, including 117 for negligence and 23 for deliberate arson. Almost all were for heat-inducing or agricultural outdoor work, according to the Hellenic Fire Service, the national agency for fire and rescue service.

On Tuesday, firefighters discovered the bodies of 18 people believed to be migrants in a recently burned area of a forest near the northeastern port city of Alexandroupolis, which is close to Greece's border with Turkey, according to the Hellenic Fire Service. The Associated Press reported that two more people died on Monday, one in northern Greece and one in the central part of the European country.

While working to contain hundreds of wildfires nationwide over the past week, at least 60 firefighters have been injured or have developed serious breathing problems, according to the Hellenic Fire Service.

The blaze in the Alexandroupolis region has burned more than 730 square kilometers (282 square miles) in six days, making it the largest on record in the European Union, according to European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic. Eight countries within the European Union have deployed a total of 246 firefighters, 40 vehicles and eight aircraft to assist Greece, according to the European Commission.

The Hellenic Fire Service said Bulgarian, Albanian, Romanian and Czech firefighters with vehicles were helping in the Alexandroupolis fire.

Another major wildfire is burning on the outskirts of Greece's capital and has spread into the national park on Mount Parnitha, one of the last green areas near Athens, according to The Associated Press. The Hellenic Fire Service said 260 firefighters along with 19 from France, are battling the Parnitha fire supported by various aircraft, including some from Germany and Sweden.

Greece suffers destructive wildfires every summer. The deadliest killed 104 people in 2018 in a seaside resort near Athens that residents had not been warned to evacuate. Authorities have since erred on the side of caution, ordering evacuations whenever inhabited areas are under threat.

Greece's climate crisis and civil protection minister described the situation as "unprecedented." Many areas of Greece have been placed at Level 5, the highest for fire risk, seven times so far this year, which Kikilias said was twice as many in 2021, four times more than in 2019 and seven times that of 2012.

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