‘Apocalyptic’ Greek inferno triggers mass evacuation as hundreds left homeless

At least 1,450 Greek firefighters have been battling the infernos along with 15 aircraft, with reinforcements arriving from other countries

Firestorm in Greece

Thousands of tourists and residents were evacuated and a thick cloud of smoke and ash hung over Athens Saturday as forests fires that have already killed two people raged for the eleventh day in parts of Greece.

At least 1,450 Greek firefighters were battling the infernos along with 15 aircraft, with reinforcements arriving from other countries, the fire service said. 

The blazes are set to continue with strong winds and temperatures of up to 38 degrees Centigrade forecast in some regions on Saturday.

(Photograph:AFP)

'Climate change hotspot'

Greece and Turkey have been fighting devastating fires for more than a week as the region suffers its worst heatwave in decades -- officials and experts linking such intense weather events to climate change. 

A UN draft report labelled the Mediterranean region a "climate change hotspot" and warned that heatwaves, droughts and fires would become more fierce in the future, supercharged by rising temperatures.

The Greek fire service said Saturday blazes were raging in the Attica peninsula that includes Athens, in Evia, the country's second largest island and located east of the capital, and the Peloponnese region in the southwest.

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Two people killed in Greece 

One of two people killed in Greece was named as Konstantinos Michalos, the president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He was found unconscious in a factory in Krioneri and was later confirmed dead in hospital.

On Friday, a 38-year-old man from Ippokrateio, a town north of Athens that has been ravaged by the flames, died in hospital after being hit by a falling electric pole as he was riding a moped. 

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Peloponnese town burnt

Eleni Drakoulakou, the mayor of of East Mani, told ERT TV on Saturday that 50 percent of the Peloponnese town has been burnt, blaming a lack of water-dropping air support during the critical first hours of the wildfire

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Saturday pledged the swift restoration of the affected areas.

"The burnt areas will be marked out for reforestation,"he told reporters. "When this nightmarish summer ends we will reverse the damage as soon as possible".

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Visits to parks and forests banned

The ANA news agency said two people were held on suspicion of arson.

In Athens, police arrested a woman in a park on Friday as she was carrying two lighters, petrol and flammable materials, a few minutes after a fire broke out there.

Authorities have banned visits to parks and forests through Greece, according to ANA.

Meanwhile, a 43-year-old man was arrested in the area of Krioneri near Athens and charged with arson, according to ANA.

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Risks related to drought, wildfire

The assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- to be published next year -- details the future impacts that carbon pollution will have on the region, which this week sweltered in above-average temperatures while Greece and Turkey battle record-breaking blazes.

The Mediterranean's more than half-a-billion inhabitants face "highly interconnected climate risks," says a chapter dedicated to the region in a draft of the IPCC's Working Group II report on climate impacts, due for official release in February 2022. 

"Reasons for concern include sea-level rise related risks, land and marine biodiversity losses, risks related to drought, wildfire, alterations of water cycle, endangered food production, health risks in both urban and rural settlements from heat, and altered disease vectors," is its grim assessment. 

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Greenhouse gas emissions

The draft predicts that temperatures across the Mediterranean are likely to rise faster than the global average in the decades to come, threatening the region's vital agriculture, fisheries and tourism sectors. 

Tens of millions more inhabitants will face heightened risk of water shortages, coastal flooding and exposure to potentially deadly extreme heat, it warns. 

Depending on how quickly humanity reins in its greenhouse gas emissions, some Mediterranean regions could see rain-fed crop yields decrease by 64 percent, the draft predicts.

Currently, 71 percent of the Middle East and North Africa region's GDP is exposed to high or very high water stress, and 61 percent of its population, it says.

The burnt area of forests in Mediterranean Europe is projected to increase by up to 87 percent if Earth's average surface temperature warms two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and as much as 187 percent in a 3C-hotter world.

Global heating has seen the planet warm 1.1C so far.

While not predicted to be the region of the world worst affected by rising temperatures, the IPCC draft identifies the Mediterranean as a "climate change hotspot".

(Photograph:AFP)

Warming across the Mediterranean region

Although individual fires such as those in Greece and Turkey are hard to blame directly on warmer temperatures, heatwaves and drought caused by climate change are increasing their probability.

Climate models project warming across the Mediterranean region about 20 percent higher than global averages, according to the draft. 

Southern Europe is currently in the grips of a crippling heatwave with near-record temperatures.

Ilan Kelman, professor of disasters and health at University College London's Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, said that when it came to disasters such as fire or flooding, there were practical steps that governments and planners could take to mitigate risk. 

These include building less on flood- or fire-prone regions, better forest management, and creating easy, robust escape plans for when things go wrong. 

(Photograph:AFP)

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