Tuesday was one of the worst days of this summer in terms of fires in Greece, with massive wildfires raging in Varympompi, Athens, on the islands of Evia and Kos, as well as near Evzones at the border of Greece with North Macedonia.
A total of 81 fires broke out in Greece on Tuesday, making it one of the worst days in recent years. Between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, 41 more fires broke out across the nation, the Greek government stated.
The extremely high temperatures that have been prevailing in Greece for days along with locally strong winds have caused a dangerous cocktail of hot and dry conditions that enable the spread of fires.
Massive blaze burns homes in Varympompi, Attica
A huge fire broke out on Tuesday afternoon in Varympompi, a northern suburb of Athens. Houses in the area, as well as in the nearby neighborhood of Adames, have now burned down from the blaze, which kept burning all night long.
All residents in areas threatened by the strong fire have been evacuated, including the settlements in Varympompi, Adames, Thrakomakedones, and the Olympic Village.
According to an official briefing that was held at the headquarters of the Civil Protection Secretariat in Athens late last night, 520 firefighters, 17 terrain teams, 150 fire trucks nine helicopters, and seven aircraft were battling the blaze in Athens.
A total of 76 homes were seriously damaged by the fire in Varympompi, Deputy Civil Protection and Crises Management Minister Nikos Hardalias said during an urgent briefing held at the Civil Protection premises named “Pharos”.
Giving an initial estimate of the damage, Hardalias said that 1250 hectares have been burnt, 76 houses and 27 businesses have sustained serious damage, while 18 houses were partially damaged. “Our first priority is human life. Human life is over and above anything else,” Hardalias said.
Hardalias had already said on Tuesday night that this fire began at 1:25 PM in Ano Varympompi, on Mount Parnitha, when the prevailing heatwave conditions created a situation where temperatures of 45 degrees Celcius, the humidity of under 10 percent, and midday winds with a velocity of 6 on the Beaufort scale caused the tragedy.
The Greek National Highway, which runs from Athens to Lamia, has been closed due to the flames, and all train services between Athens and Thessaloniki have also been canceled.
The Greek Fire Brigade was assisted by the Greek army, and the police – including 305 policemen and 3 riot police teams. Hundreds of volunteers and employees in the local authorities of the area also assisted.
A total of 315 people were transferred by the Greek police to safe ground.
Evacuees of Varympompi who have lost homes may call the National Public Health Organization (EODY) at 1135 to be put up at hotels, at the expense of the state.
Wildfires Rage on northern Evia island
The second biggest blaze that kept raging on Tuesday was the front on the island of Evia (Euboea), northeast of Athens.
Many communities in the northwest part of the island, including Retsinolakkos, Kourkoulou, Sipiada, Chronia, Dremonas, Skepasti, and Kokinni were ordered to evacuate their homes for precautionary reasons. Additionally, people from the coastal village of Mourtias also had to leave their properties and find refuge somewhere else.
The fire was raging for hours on Tuesday evening and into the night dangerously close to the town of Limni where many summer camps have their premises.
Limni is the main settlement of the region.
Firefighting forces from elsewhere on Evia and as well as from neighboring regions in central Greece headed to the island to assist.
According to local media reports, the fire was so big, that it managed to cross several roads and highways and finally reach the coast, where it ultimately stopped!
In between, homes, properties, tourist premises, and businesses alike were burned down completely, leaving ruins and destruction in one of the most beautiful parts of the island.
There is no official statement on the magnitude of the catastrophe, but a total of 150 hotel beds were used last night to accommodate people who needed to flee their homes, something that gives us an approximate number of the people who have been affected.
Fire on Kos island
Another major fire broke out on the popular tourist destination of Kos, an island in the Eastern Aegean Sea.
The wildfire affected large forest areas on the island close to the ancient Asclepeion area. Fortunately enough, the fire was soon contained.
The firefighting forces of the island operated in collaboration with the municipal authority of Kos as well as volunteers.
A helicopter from Rhodes also helped in battling the blaze.
Firefighting forces stayed on high alert throughout the night to prevent the rekindling of fire pockets, the deputy mayor of the island Stamatis Kampourakis told the state-run AMNA news agency.
Fire on the border between Greece and North Macedonia
Another large blaze that burned down a large area was the one that broke out near the border of Greece with North Macedonia.
The fire broke out in the area between the towns of Evzones and Idomeni, the two border crossings between Greece and North Macedonia. Fortunately, no properties were burned.
The fire brigade of the area of Kilkis managed to contain the damage and put out the fire completely.
The traffic towards the customs office at Evzones has now been restored. Traffic on the Athens-Evzones national highway, as well as on the old national highway between Thessaloniki and Evzones is now back to normal.
PM Mitsotakis holds emergency meeting in Athens
An emergency meeting was held early in the morning of Wednesday in Athens to assess the situation in Varympompi and elsewhere.
The meeting was held in the mobile coordination center named ”Olympos” near the site of the fire in Varympompi.
Ancient Olympic site threatened by the fire
Authorities have now ordered villages in western Peloponnese near the original site of the ancient Olympic Games to evacuate as the fires have spread to their area and threatened the region. A dozen villages were left behind near the historical site as 160 firefighters and a water bombing airplane worked to save the site from destruction.
High temperatures and forceful winds have strengthened the fires and allowed them to multiply: there are now a total of 150 wildfires across Greece.
“We’re doing our best to save this sacred place,” said mayor Panagiotis Antonakopoulos, “After human lives our priority is to save our history.”
The site is where the Olympic flame is first lit before traveling to the host city of the Olympics.