Hundreds of firefighters from across Europe and the Middle East worked alongside their Greek colleagues in rugged terrain on Wednesday, trying to contain flareups of the huge wildfires that have ravaged Greece’s forests for a week, destroying homes and forcing thousands to evacuate.
The spread of the blazes has been largely halted, officials said, but fronts still burned on the large island of Evia and in Greece’s southern Peloponnese region, where several homes were on fire, according to state ERT TV.
Greece’s fire service said 900 firefighters, including teams from Poland, Romania, Cyprus, Ukraine, Serbia, Slovakia and Moldova, and 27 aircraft were working on Evia, Greece’s second-largest island which is linked to the mainland by a bridge.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke on the phone Wednesday with top officials from Ukraine, Qatar and Romania to “warmly thank them” for their contributions. The three countries sent 340 firefighters and 24 vehicles in response to Greece’s appeal for help.
Evia’s northern part, which has forests entwined with villages and small seaside resorts, has suffered the greatest damage, with an estimated 50,000 hectares (123,000 acres) lost and dozens of homes burned.
Some 600 firefighters from Greece, the Czech Republic, Britain, France and Germany were also deployed Wednesday near ancient Olympia and in Arcadia in the Peloponnese, assisted by 33 water-dropping aircraft — including two Russian Ilyushin Il-76s that can drop more than 40 tons at one go.
A massive fire that broke out last week north of Athens has been limited to a section of a national park on Mount Parnitha. Firefighters from France, Qatar, Kuwait and Israel were deployed there.
The fires broke out last week after Greece had just experienced its most protracted heatwave since 1987, leaving its forests tinder-dry. Other nearby nations such as Turkey and Italy faced similar searing temperatures and quickly spreading fires, while Spain and Portugal were on alert on Wednesday for wildfires amid a heat wave forecast to last through Monday.
At the southern side of the Mediterranean Sea, wildfires in Algeria’s mountains have killed 65 people, including 28 soldiers sent in to help, and three days of national mourning begin Thursday.
Worsening drought and heat – both linked to climate change – have also fueled wildfires this summer in the Western U.S. and in Russia’s northern Siberia region. Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme events.