The wildfire in the region of Evros of northeastern Greece has been declared the biggest the European Union (EU) has ever faced, an EU official said on Thursday.
The fire north of the coastal city of Alexandroupolis, which has been burning for seven days now, combined with smaller fires to create a blaze that has destroyed homes and caused multiple evacuations of villages and of the city’s hospital.
Eighteen migrants have perished in the wildfire. Their charred bodies were discovered by firefighters in the Dadia Forest, which is a national park.
Among the victims, there are two children, Alexandroupolis coroner Pavlos Pavlidis said.
After a visual (macroscopic) examination, Pavlidis told Athens-Macedonian News Agency, “There were a total of 18 charred bodies, all of them males and two of them little children. They were found in groups of two or three and at a distance of 500 meters, obviously, as they were trying to escape, and some of them had burnt to death inside a sheephold.”
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.
— Janez Lenarčič (@JanezLenarcic) August 24, 2023
Elaborating on data provided by the European Commission’s Copernicus mapping service, the National Observatory of Athens said that 292,587 hectares (722,998 acres) of forest area had been burned to ashes by wildfires in Evros.
It added that 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) of forest area had burned in the country in sixteen mega wildfires since 2007, with the one in Evros being the largest.
Evros wildfire damaged the National Park of Dadia
A large portion of the Dadia Forest has been burned, and it is feared that several species of animals and birds have been affected. Surveys have recorded at least sixty species of mammals, twelve species of amphibians, twenty-nine reptilian species, and over a hundred butterfly species. There are also anywhere between three to four hundred different plant species; birds include the black vulture, Egyptian vulture, and Griffon vulture.
After initial protection in 1980, in 2006, the Dadia Forest became a national park, protecting an area of some 428 sq km (165 sq mi).
Some of the fires are burning in steep gorges and are difficult to access. Canadair airplanes and Erickson helicopters taking off from the Alexandroupolis airport have been of help there.
The wind velocity has dropped compared to previous days but continues to feed the fires, and some fires have even been rekindled.
The mayor of the nearby town of Soufli, Planagiotis Kalakikos, referred to the forest’s role as a source of living for several professions in the area, including for woodworkers, beekeepers, and tourism professionals.
“In the last decade, we have seen a drop of 22 [percent] in demographics, and obviously the intensity of natural disasters, besides damaging the environment, affects the local economy,’ he reported. “The fire will be put out, but we must also see to the day after also.”
Wildfires in Greece
Last month, devastating wildfires wreaked havoc in Central Greece and the islands, leading to the compulsory evacuation of around twenty thousand tourists from the resort island of Rhodes.
Shortly thereafter, a water-dropping plane operated by the air force crashed while engaging in a blaze on the island of Evia. This resulted in the loss of two air force pilots’ lives.