Wildfires in Greece: After a Long Battle, Firefighters Contain Blazes
ATHENS – After 10 days of fighting fires across the country, firefighters in Greece managed to contain some on Thursday, though a thunderstorm was a mixed blessing: rain put out some of the smoldering fires but lightning in sparked new ones.
Vasilis Vathrakoyiannis, spokesman for the fire department, said in the morning that things were much better in Evia, the second largest island in the country, which bore the brunt of the fires, and Arcadia is a region in the south of the country. . “But lightning created new small fronts,” Vathrakoyiannis said, adding that additional firefighting forces had been sent to fight the new fires. In the afternoon, however, a few fires rekindled in Arcadia.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday that sweeping changes were needed to prevent and respond to the “mega” type forest fires that have raged across many parts of Europe this summer amid record-breaking heat waves.
“The climate crisis is here,” Mitsotakis said at a press conference, adding that “everything has to change”, citing energy policy, public services and the way people treat the environment.
The problem isn’t just affecting Greece, he said, citing rising temperatures and destruction caused by the fires in Algeria, Sicily and Turkey. “It’s not just a Greek phenomenon. It’s Mediterranean, it’s global, “he said, adding that Mediterranean countries should work together against this” common crisis “.
Responding to criticism from residents of Evia and elsewhere that the early evacuation of villages was behind the scale of destruction in Greece – estimated at over 230,000 acres of forest – Mr Mitsotakis said that the tactic was aimed at saving lives. In Evia and other areas of Greece affected by the fires, many residents defied government calls to evacuate, staying put to fight the flames with garden hoses and buckets.
“We have succeeded in protecting thousands of people, but we have lost forests and property,” he said, referring to “the biggest ecological disaster in decades”.
He added: “We have done everything we can. But clearly, that was not enough.
Mitsotakis also rejected suggestions his government had delayed asking for foreign support for the fight against the fires, saying the request was made “within hours”. And he pledged to increase funding for forest fire protection and create a specialized unit to fight forest fires.
He said that claims by some residents that Evia’s forest land had been intentionally burned to pave the way for wind farms were “completely unfounded”. But he stressed his long-standing support for a transition to green energy as a way to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
“Wind farms are not an enemy. They are an ally in an effort to make this transition, ”he said, adding that efforts are underway to phase out lignite-fired power plants in Greece and switch to greener energy alternatives.
“The negative experience of this onslaught of nature must be transformed into a positive force for change. “
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