Wildfires raging in Greece named 'largest wildfires on record' in EU

Local residents watch the wildfire in Avantas village, near Alexandroupolis town. Credit: AP

A number of wildfires that merged together to create a massive inferno in Greece are the biggest wildfires the European Union (EU) has ever faced, an EU official has said.

The fire in the Alexandroupolis region in northeastern Greece - burning for a sixth day - combined with smaller fires to create a blaze that has destroyed homes and caused multiple evacuations of villages and of the city's hospital.

With more than 282 square miles burned, the combined blazes “are now the largest wildfires on record the EU has faced,” European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“We must continue strengthening national and collective prevention and preparedness efforts in view of more brutal fire seasons,” he tweeted.

It comes as firefighters continue to struggle against strong winds and hot, dry conditions to tame multiple wildfires ravaging Greece.

The wildfires have left 20 people dead over the last week. Eighteen of those, including two boys aged between 10 and 15, are believed to be migrants who crossed the nearby border with Turkey.

Their bodies were found by firefighters near a shack in a burnt forest area near Alexandroupolis in northeastern Greece.

A total of 60 firefighters have been injured, fire department spokesman Ioannis Artopios said.

Firefighters in Greece were battling dozens of other fires, including a major blaze on the outskirts of Athens that scorched homes and encroached on one of the last green areas near the Greek capital, the national park on Mount Parnitha.

On Wednesday alone, firefighters battled 99 separate blazes across the country, officials said.

A view of flames as a forest burns, in the village of Dikela, near Alexandroupolis town on Wednesday. Credit: AP

Greece's Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said arson was to blame for some of the blazes near Athens.

“Some... arsonists are setting fires, endangering forests, property and above all human lives,” Kikilias said in a televised statement.

“What is happening is not just unacceptable but despicable and criminal.”

The minister said nine fires had been set in the space of four hours on Thursday morning in the area of Avlona, in the northern foothills of Mount Parnitha.

“You are committing a crime against the country,” Kikilias said. “You will not get away with it. We will find you, you will be held accountable to justice.”

Firefighters evacuate a dog from a house during a wildfire in Acharnes a suburb of northern Athens on Wednesday Credit: AP

With firefighting forces stretched to the limit, Greece has asked other European countries for assistance.

Germany, Sweden, Croatia and Cyprus sent aircraft, while dozens of Romanian, French, Czech, Bulgarian and Albanian firefighters have been helping on the ground.

Artopios, the Greek fire department spokesman, said 260 firefighters, including more than a dozen from France, were battling the Parnitha fire supported by 10 planes and 11 helicopters.

Flames burn a forest during wildfires near the village of Sykorrahi, near Alexandroupolis town Credit: AP

Bulgarian, Albanian, Romanian and Czech firefighters with vehicles were helping in the Alexandroupolis fire.

Elsewhere in Europe, fires on Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands, northwestern Turkey near the border with Greece, Portugal and Italy were being brought under control, officials said.

With their hot, dry summers, southern European countries are particularly prone to wildfires.

European Union officials have blamed climate change for the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires in Europe, noting that 2022 was the second-worst year for wildfire damage on record after 2017.

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