Fires in Greece have become erratic as a result of strong winds and scorching heat, forcing firefighting crews to retreat and additional evacuations for nearby residents. Firefighters from across Europe and the Mediterranean have been dispatched to assist in the control of the country’s wildfires.
A volunteer firefighter from Ippokratio Politia died on Friday after sustaining injuries, a Greek media outlet reported.
Firefighters in Kryoneri, located to the northwest of Athens, were forced to retreat on Friday as they struggled to slow the advancing flames, local media reported. The fire entered the settlement as firefighters, volunteers and residents evacuated the area after a “titanic” battle from land and air crews.
According to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist John Gresiak, temperatures above 100 Fahrenheit, relative humidity around 10-15% and winds gusting to 30 mph created “brutal” conditions for getting fires under control.
A suspicious person on the front line in Kryoneri was brought in for questioning and to confirm if he was there to assist fire crews. The fire brigade and police are on fire alert after finding incendiary devices in Parnitha, a town to the west on the other side of the Varibobi Fire.
Just east of Kryoneri, the Nea Thalpi Nursing Home in Agios Stefanos was evacuated early Friday morning, local time, according to Greek media. Forty-two bedridden residents were taken to nearby hospitals, while others were transferred to hotels or to stay with family members.
Evacuations were issued on Friday in Gythio along the southern coast of the Peloponnese island, as the leading edge of the flames of the fire in Eastern Mani expanded to the coast. Across the country, thousands of people have reportedly been forced to evacuate.
The Health Center of Mantoudi was forced to evacuate as the Northern Evia fires on the Euboea Island neared the facilities. According to local media, two of the doctors will stay behind to assist the ambulances that remain in a safe location to serve the firefighters. The nearby facilities of Istiaia Health Center and the Edipsos Regional Clinic were put on high alert for potential evacuation.
Ignazio Cassis, vice president of Switzerland, announced on Twitter on Friday that emergency personnel along with three helicopters were being deployed to assist with firefighting efforts in Greece. Israeli Firefighters arrived in Greece on Friday afternoon, local time, to assist the Hellenic Fire Service.
Satellite imagery below shows the intensity of fires across Greece. The Northern Evia Fire on Euboa Island (northeast) is the largest and most intense on the map. The Varibobi Fire (east) can be seen near Athens as well as the fires in Eastern Mani (south).
Travel and visits in forests, national parks and nature areas have been prohibited through at least Monday by Greek authorities. In addition, any work that could spark a new fire, oxygen welding or any burning, has also been prohibited through Monday.
Residents in the capital city of Athens were warned to close windows and stay indoors as smoke from the nearby wildfires spread into the city, according to CNN. In addition to poor air quality, the smoke also reduced visibility in the city at times.
Over 500 firefighters worked through Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, local time, to try to control the blaze.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said crews did vital work fighting the nightmarish fires. “We had no loss of human life… Homes will be rebuilt, and over time the forest will grow back,” he added.
From late Monday to late Tuesday, 188 wildfires were reported across Greece, according to officials.
The Netherlands Ministry of Defense announced on Wednesday that two Chinook transport helicopters would be dispatched to Albania in the second half of the week to assist in the suppression of ongoing fires.
According to AccuWeather meteorologist Alyssa Smithmyer, the setup that resulted in the intense heat across south-east Europe included a strong area of high pressure that remained over the Balkans, allowing a heat dome to form.
Much of eastern Europe had temperatures average 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for the month of July. During this time, parts of southern Greece and southwest Turkey reported no rainfall.
“A deficit in rainfall from dry weather earlier in the summer exacerbated the temperatures further as the dry surface heated up much more easily than what moist soil would,” Smithmyer said.
According to AccuWeather meteorologist Rob Richards, the heat will linger across southeastern Europe through Thursday, but temperatures are not expected to be as intense in some areas by the weekend as a front pushes into the region.
“Sofia, Bulgaria, will be a good 15 degrees or so cooler on Friday as compared to Thursday, and there will be an outside chance of a shower or thunderstorm as well due to a front moving through,” Richards stated. “Athens will dip by into the middle 90s by this weekend as slightly cooler air settles in behind this front.”
However, forecasters say showers and thunderstorms will struggle to spread south into Greece and Turkey, which will provide little help for firefighters battling the flames across the region. A lack of rain and periods of gusty winds can complicate firefighting efforts.