European Union Rushes Firefighters to Greece as Grueling Mediterranean Heat Wave Takes Toll

By Derek Gatopoulos, Nicole Winfield and David Brunat | July 20, 2023

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Firefighting aircraft and ground crews from other countries headed to Greece on Thursday to help battle wildfires that have intensified as a heat wave baked much of southern Europe in temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

New evacuations were ordered Wednesday as wildfires raged near Athens. In a round-the-clock battle to preserve forests, industrial facilities and vacation homes, evacuations continued for a third day Thursday along a highway connecting the capital to the southern city of Corinth.

In the small town of Mandra, located 25 kilometers west of Athens, resident Varvara Paraskevopoulou said the flames reached her doorstep before the Fire Service personnel did. She described fleeing the fire on Tuesday and then returning to help a group of residents trying to protect their properties themselves.

“We extinguished what we could by ourselves and managed to save some homes. As you’ll see further up, three or four houses _ residences and storage spaces _ were burnt completely,” Paraskevopoulou said.

Firefighting teams from Poland, Romania and Slovakia were due in Greece on Thursday, and Israel pledged to send two firefighting planes, adding to the four from Italy and France that were already operating outside Athens.

Southern Europe`s second heat wave in as many weeks has brought extreme temperatures to Mediterranean countries. Temperatures in southern Greece were expected to reach 44 C (111 F) by the end of the week.

Alessandro Miani, president of the Italian Society of Environmental Doctors, warned that the aging populations in Italy and other countries are a concern because heat-related deaths most commonly happen in people over age 80.

“The excessive heat together with humidity can make difficult for sweat to evaporate, interfering with the body`s ability to regulate its own temperature,” Miani said.

The heat in Rome eased only slightly after a sweltering 42-43 C (107-109 F) on Tuesday, while highs in Sicily and Sardinia reached 46 C (114 F). Parts of Spain were as high as 45 C (113 F) on Wednesday.

Amador Cortes, a resident in the southern Spanish city of Jaen, said people were doing their best to avoid the sun during midday hours and the early afternoon.

“The truth is, they take shelter at home with the air conditioning, with the fan. In the street, the elderly suffer a lot. Anyway, we have to put up with it,” he said.

In the southern Turkish city of Adana, a group of residents handed out desserts in the street, and many paid tribute to the late U.S. engineer Willis Carrier, who invented the air conditioner in 1902.

“The people of Adana really need air conditioners. God bless him for making such an invention,” city resident Mehmet Saygin told Turkey`s DHA news agency.

The latest heat wave added to concerns about climate change. The World Meteorological Organization, a United Nations body, said preliminary global figures showed last month was the hottest June on record.

“The extreme weather, an increasingly frequent occurrence in our warming climate, is having a major impact on human health, ecosystems, economies, agriculture, energy and water supplies,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said Wednesday.

“This underlines the increasing urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and as deeply as possible.”

The firefighters were being sent to Greece as part of a European Union civil protection mechanism that includes the planned deployment of international crews to parts of southern Europe over the summer.

Top photo: A man stands by a burnt house after yesterday’s fire in Mandra west of Athens, on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. Fast-moving wildfires swept across hills in the searing heat outside the Greek capital on Tuesday, forcing authorities to close highways to help protect an oil refinery. Water-dropping airplanes and helicopters flew low though a blanket of smoke tinted orange by the sunset to try and contain two wildfires to the west of Athens before nightfall. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

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