04 September 2023

Massive wildfire in north-eastern Greece gradually abating

04 September 2023

A massive wildfire that devastated vast tracts of forest in north-eastern Greece over 17 days is gradually abating, although hundreds of firefighters are still tackling pockets that continue to burn, the fire department said.

Reinforcements were sent over the weekend to the wildfire burning in the Evros region near the border with Turkey, bringing the total number of firefighters to 741, backed by 124 vehicles and two aircraft.

The blaze has been blamed for the deaths of 20 people. All are believed to have been migrants who had recently crossed the border.

The fire, which broke out on August 19 near the north-eastern city of Alexandroupolis and joined with other blazes to form one massive wildfire, had burned more than 93,000 hectares (230,000 acres) of land by Sunday, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service, making it the largest single blaze to have hit an EU country since records began in 2000.

Wildfires are common in Greece and other southern European countries during their hot, dry summers.

Dozens of fires have been breaking out each day across the country for weeks, with the fire department saying its forces tackled 82 wildfires between Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, with 49 of them having broken out in those 24 hours.

Another fire broke out on Monday in woodland on the northern outskirts of Athens.

More than 70 firefighters, including 18 from France, backed by two planes and three helicopters, managed to bring the blaze under partial control within hours, the fire department said.

With its firefighting forces stretched to the limit, Greece appealed for help from other European countries, and has received hundreds of firefighters, as well as a fleet of planes and helicopters, from across the continent.

On Sunday, forces from France, Spain, Cyprus, Romania, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Albania and Serbia were still operating in the country.

Meanwhile, Greece’s prime minister said the country is working with Israel on developing artificial intelligence technology that would help with the early detection of dangerous wildfires.

After talks with Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu and Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, Kyriakos Mitsotakis also said that Israel could be brought into the European Union fold when it comes to civil protection initiatives to better co-ordinate firefighting efforts.

Mr Mitsotakis said Greece could act as a proving ground for Israeli AI technology in the early detection of wildfires.

“We are already talking to Israel about AI-based solutions that will offer us early detection capabilities,” he said.

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