• Saturday, 13 July 2024

Greece battles fires as 150 square kilometres destroyed on Rhodes

Greece battles fires as 150 square kilometres destroyed on Rhodes

Athens/Rhodes, 25 July 2023 (dpa/MIA) - A firefighting aircraft crashed in Greece on Tuesday while battling forest fires that continue to rage in several areas of the country, including most intensely on the island of Rhodes.

"We are experiencing the most difficult days of the summer," a fire brigade spokesman said on Tuesday from the Greek Civil Protection headquarters in Athens.

Powerful winds continued to fuel the wildfires on Rhodes as officials warned that the danger of fires in nearly all parts of Greece is extremely high.

The aircraft that crashed was flying a mission on the island of Euboea when it went down, according to Greek state broadcaster ERT. The fate of the crew aboard the aircraft remained unclear.

Footage of the crash showed the plane dropping water, flying sideways, losing altitude and then hitting the ground with its right wing. Then flames and smoke rise.

There are usually two people on board such firefighting aircraft. State radio reported that it was a Greek civil defence aircraft and not a foreign aircraft sent to assist the firefighting effort.

Firefighters from 11 European countries are currently supporting Greek firefighting efforts in different parts of the country.

Elsewhere in Greece, fires are burning on the Peloponnese peninsula near the port city of Egion and on the island of Corfu, according to the fire brigade.

The fires on Euboea, north-east of Athens, are raging near the port city of Karystos and also threatening villages on the island.

Meanwhile, the Meteorological Office warned that extremely high temperatures are set to prevail in almost all parts of the country on Tuesday and particularly on Wednesday.

"Thermometers could show 46 degrees and above, especially on Wednesday," a meteorologist told news channel Skai. The temperature is then forecast to cool to around 35 degrees Celsius on Thursday.

The fires on Rhodes now threaten six villages north and west of Lindos, an ancient archaeological site, while a new wildfire on the island broke out near the village of Vati in the south-east at midday.

Metre-high flames spread towards the village of Gennada, whose residents have already been evacuated to safety, witnesses told dpa.

"We need help urgently, otherwise the south of the island will burn down completely by tomorrow," a firefighter said.

There are strong winds in the area, and huge clouds of black smoke are darkening the sky, he said. All of the available firefighters have been diverted to help combat the current fire.

Nine firefighting planes and four firefighting helicopters are deployed to battle flames on the island, according to authorities.

"The firefighting work is proving very difficult because of shifting winds," a spokesman for the fire brigade told state radio.

Estimates earlier in the day put the area destroyed by the wildfires on Rhodes at 150 square kilometres. Countless deer, turtles and other wild and farm animals have died in the fires, say animal protection monitors.

A rare species of fallow deer is under threat due to the wildfires, with many having died in the flames. Those who have survived are now looking for food and water in inhabited regions, state television reported.

Animal rights activists appealed to people in Rhodes to leave food and drinking water out in their gardens to enable the deer to survive.

A wildfire raging for days on the island of Corfu is also out of control and three villages near the small harbour town of Kassiopi have been evacuated, according to reports. The fire brigade spokesman said six planes and four helicopters are trying to put out fires on Corfu.

Greek television showed tourists leaving a village on Corfu on foot, while buses at the outskirts of town were to bring them to safety.

Meanwhile, investigations have begun into the causes of the fires. The public prosecutor's office is looking into whether the fire brigade leadership took sufficient measures when the fire was smaller, Greek state television reported.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defended the actions of the fire brigade, telling state television that there are "no magic solutions" in the fight against the consequences of climate change.

"If there were such [magic solutions], we would have applied them," the premier added. 

Fires broke out in Rhodes last week and some 19,000 residents and tourists were evacuated as a precaution. Mitsotakis defended the rapid evacuation.

However he went on to say: "We can do better," without elaborating.

While many have now left, some are staying in emergency shelters such as gymnasiums and schools.

The weather conditions would continue to complicate firefighting efforts in the next few days, Mitsotakis said. His government has faced criticism from the opposition for not bringing the fires under control more quickly.

Photo: MIA archive