Climate threat: Wildfires rage in Turkey, heatwave hits Greece

Fires have raged across Turkey, Spain and Italy with experts warning climate change was increasing both the frequency and intensity of such blazes.

Wildfires rage in drought-hit Turkey

Firefighters using planes and helicopters, and locals with buckets of water, battled wildfires raging for a sixth day near southern coastal resorts in drought-hit Turkey and the government faced fresh criticism of its handling the disaster.

Seven fires were still burning, fanned by temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F), strong winds and low humidity, Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said.

Meteorology maps show areas affected by fires have suffered severe drought in recent months.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Smouldering buildings

Drone footage filmed by showed grey hillsides near the resort of Marmaris where fires left smouldering buildings and blackened tree trunks.

While 16 planes and 51 helicopters tackled blazes across a swathe of southwest Turkey, villagers carrying water containers up a hill to fight a fire near Marmaris said the government was not doing enough to help them.

"We are here as the entire village, from the locals to others. We didn't run or anything, so the government must see this and also not run away. It must send some of its planes here," a woman called Gulhan told Reuters.

Engin Ozkoc, a senior figure in the main opposition CHP, called on Pakdemirli to resign for failing to adequately prepare.

"You don't deserve that ministry. You didn't foresee this and buy firefighting planes," he said, criticising the amount of aerial resources available.

(Photograph:AFP)

Turkey's tourism industry takes a hit

The European Union said it had helped mobilise three fire-fighting planes. One from Croatia and two from Spain joined teams from Russia, Iran, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

President Tayyip Erdogan's communications director, Fahrettin Altun, rejected criticism of the government's handling of the fires and condemned a social media campaign calling for foreign help.

"Our Turkey is strong. Our state is standing tall," Altun said on Twitter, describing most information about the fires on social media as "fake news". "All our losses will be compensated for."

Eight people have been killed in the wildfires, but there were no reports of further casualties on Monday.

Since Wednesday, thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes and some tourists have left their hotels, although tourism minister Mehmet Ersoy said holidaymakers had returned within hours.

The wildfires are another blow to Turkey's tourism industry following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bulent Bulbuloglu, head of the South Aegean Hoteliers Association, said 10% of reservations had been cancelled in Bodrum and Marmaris. Others had cut their visits short.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Heatwave in Greece

Meanwhile, firefighters were battling two large wildfires in Greece on Monday, as the prime minister said the country was suffering its worst heatwave in more than three decades.

Fires have also raged across Turkey, Spain and Italy over the weekend with experts warning climate change was increasing both the frequency and intensity of such blazes.

More than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of pine and olive groves have been torched by a fire that broke out on Saturday near the city of Patras, 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of Athens, according to the National Observatory of Athens citing EU satellite images.

And the authorities were rushing to bolster crews fighting a blaze on the island of Rhodes near Turkey.

(Photograph:AFP)

'We are facing the worst heatwave since 1987'

"We are facing the worst heatwave since 1987," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, adding that the authorities were doing "everything possible" to deal with the situation.

After meeting electricity providers, he warned that the brutal heat was putting a strain on the power network and asked for Greeks to limit their consumption in the early afternoon and during the night.

(Photograph:AFP)

'Climate threat'

Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said that there had been 1,584 fires across Greece in July compared to 953 in 2019, and that there had been 116 new blazes in just the last 24 hours.

"We are no longer talking about climate change but about a climate threat," he told Star TV.

The fire near Patras was not fully under control on Monday, the country's weather service told the ANA news agency.

And temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) have been forecast for nearby areas, posing new risks for land already parched by the heatwave.

(Photograph:AFP)

Firefighters and resources deployed

However, officials were optimistic that a fire on the island of Rhodes, near the Turkish coast, was on the back foot after more firefighters and resources were deployed overnight.

"Dawn finds Rhodes much better than the day before," South Aegean Governor George Hatzimarkos said in a statement.

He added that the fronts of the fire were receding and "almost under control".

More than 100 firefighters, helped by 20 vehicles, three planes and six helicopters, were sent to Rhodes on Monday morning, officials said.

(Photograph:AFP)

Valley of the Butterflies

Dozens more firefighters and 14 vehicles were due to arrive from Athens later in the day.

Firefighters evacuated a central area on the island known as "the Valley of the Butterflies" popular with hikers and tourists on Sunday.

Temperatures of between 40 and 42 degrees Celsius have been forecast for the island in the coming days, with the heatwave expected to peak on Monday and Tuesday.

Nearby Turkey is suffering its worst fires in at least a decade, claiming the lives of eight people and forcing hundreds to evacuate in southern areas popular with tourists.

(Photograph:AFP)

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