Greece Braces for "Extremely Difficult" Wildfire Season

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ATHENS, June 4 Greece is bracing for an "extremely difficult" summer and will strengthen its wildfire prevention and firefighting mechanisms as climate change threatens scorching temperatures and heightened fire risks, according to Greek officials.

"A tough summer lies ahead, but we are better prepared," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday during the inauguration of a Civil Protection Operational Center in central Greece.

Last year, wildfires claimed 20 lives, scorched over 120,000 hectares of forests and farmland, and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes. This year, authorities are preparing to combat the blazes with "more manpower than ever," mobilizing approximately 18,000 firefighters, including a specially trained unit. Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias announced investments exceeding 2 billion euros ($2.17 billion) in new equipment, including seven water-dropping aircraft and 1,100 fire engines.

However, with only 88 aircraft currently operational and new orders not arriving until 2025, authorities may face challenges if multiple widespread fires erupt, as seen in previous summers. An additional 200 million euros will be allocated to create firebreak zones in forested areas and around settlements near forests.

Since the official start of the wildfire season on May 1, crews have cleared tens of thousands of hectares of forests to contain potential fires, a task that will continue for at least another month, Environment and Energy Minister Theodoros Skylakakis told a press conference on Monday.

"(Our goal) is to increase the resilience of our defense against the very large wildfires like the ones we experienced last year and in previous years. Unfortunately, there is a very high possibility that we will witness (such fires) in coming years," he said. "This summer will be extremely difficult. And this is not a wild guess, since we have just been through the warmest winter and the warmest spring of the last many decades," the minister added.

Although the wildfire season has officially just begun, Greek firefighters have already battled approximately 70 blazes daily since early April. This year, Greece experienced its warmest winter and spring since the 1960s, with temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celsius as early as March, according to Greek meteorologists.

Citizens are urged to contribute to fire prevention efforts. Skylakakis emphasized the importance of property owners within or near (300 meters) forests clearing trees, firewood piles, and gas tanks from their yards to minimize fire risks and aid containment efforts.

Destructive wildfires in Greece are attributed not only to climate change but also to negligent arson. Consequently, Greece recently strengthened its penal code, reclassifying negligent arson as a more serious offense. Individuals who negligently start fires during gardening or work now face stricter penalties and fines, Kikilias stated. Since the beginning of the year, over 300 individuals have been arrested for negligent arson, facing up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to 200,000 euros.

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