| 8 December 2023, Friday |

Greece PM says climate change ‘not an excuse’ as wildfires burn

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece needs to do more to counteract the consequences of climate change as flames raged in the country’s center, forcing further evacuations after destroying farms and factories overnight.

The blazes, which have been fueled by high winds and temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), killed two more people in central Greece on Wednesday, bringing the total death toll from the fires to five.

Since Wednesday, officials have ordered the evacuation of several communities in the hard-hit area of Magnesia, a coastal area north of Athens. More people were forced to evacuate on Thursday, some via private speed boats, and head to the nearby port city of Volos, as flames rekindled.

Powerful explosions were heard from an ammunition depot in the coastal town of Nea Aghialos, Greek state television ERT reported.

Citing unnamed sources, ERT said the ammunition depot belonged to the Greek air forces. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

“There were dozens of blasts which caused glass windows to shatter, people got panic,” the mayor of the nearby port city of Volos, the regional capital, Achilleas Beos told Open television.

Greek fire brigade spokesperson Ioannis Artopoios said that firefighters made a “superhuman effort” but failed to tame the rekindling blazes in the wider area of Volos and in Aghialos.

The fire brigade said more than 500 wildfires have burned across the country so far this year. While summer fires are common in Greece, scientists say higher temperatures and dryer weather are turning it into a Mediterranean hotspot for climate change.

Mitsotakis said Greece needed to reform its fire fighting and fire prevention policies and do more to alleviate the impact of climate change.

“The climate crisis may be a reality, but it cannot be an excuse,” he said during a meeting with President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

“Our country ought to take more steps … to be ready to mitigate, as much as possible, the effects of a reality that we are already starting to feel, and that could have dramatic effects on many different aspects of our economic and social life,” he said.

The body of a 45-year-old shepherd was found in a rural area in the area of Magnesia on Wednesday, the fire brigade said. Earlier that day, authorities had found the body of a woman, state TV ERT said. Both deaths were attributed to the fires.


The fire brigade said 74 firefighters were injured, or suffered heat stroke, while battling the blazes over the past 10 days.

“On Thursday, the risk of a fire is extreme in several areas. We remain in a state of alert,” Artopios said.

In Sesklo, a village near Volos, the charred remains of a cow could be seen on a farm as locals coached away other cattle.

“It started from the grass on various fronts in the area and we got to this situation from the lack of public authority, of regional governors, mayors, to burn half of Magnesia,” farmer Kostas Koukouvinos said.

Late on Wednesday flames threatened the industrial zone of the city of Volos. Firefighters circled the area as they tried to protect it, a Reuters witness said.

The labour ministry urged employers in the area to suspend operations on Thursday.

Drone footage above Volos showed the fire leaving behind a trail of destruction, with charred trees and land covered in grey ash.

The fire in Kymi on the island of Evia, where two pilots were killed on Tuesday when their plane crashed into a hillside as it was dropping water onto the flames, was brought under control. Rekindles in the north of Corfu island and near the town of Lamia, south of Volos, were tamed.

On Rhodes, where more than 20,000 foreign visitors and locals fled seaside hotels and homes over the weekend, teams were trying to put out a blaze in a hard-to-reach mountainous area on Thursday.

Drone images show swathes of scorched forest land from a mountain down to the coast.

Large areas of the Mediterranean have sweltered under an intense summer heatwave in recent days, and firefighters have been battling to put out blazes across the region, from Portugal to Sicily to Algeria.

  • Reuters