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18 June, 2024
 
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Record-breaking EU wildfire threatens Greek Alexandroupoli

Firefighters fight unprecedented blaze in Greece's northeast

Kathimerini Greece Newsroom

Firefighters battled high winds and hot, dry weather on Thursday to put out three wildfires raging across Greece, including one in the Alexandroupoli region in the northeast that officials believe is the largest ever recorded in the European Union.

Experts are suggesting that higher summer temperatures are in store for Athens along with more floods in the winter after the burning of large swathes of the Mount Parnitha national park. Located on the city’s outskirts, it was one of the last significant green areas near the capital.

According to a report by WWF Hellas, 5,600 hectares burned in Parnitha in 2007. Now, 5,900 hectares were lost in the space of two days, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said on Thursday that there have been several attempts by arsonists to start new fires on Mount Parnitha, noting that blazes started in several places at the same time.

“Some lowlife arsonists are setting fires threatening forests, property and, most of all, human lives,” he said.

The wildfire in the area of Alexandroupoli in northern Greece, which raged for a sixth day, joined with smaller fires to burn homes and vast sections of forest, and force several evacuations of towns and the city’s hospital. It incinerated about 730 square kilometers, making it the EU’s biggest on record, according to European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic on X.

Over the last week, the wildfires have killed 20 people.

Regarding the impact of the raging fire in the Parnitha forest, Gavriil Xanthopoulos, the head of research at the Greek Agricultural Organization Dimitra and the Institute of Mediterranean Forest Ecosystems, stressed that this means “less green, less oxygen, less manageable water and water runoff.”

“When all the greenery around Athens has gradually been lost, obviously the city is badly affected. Once upon a time Athenians didn’t even need air-conditioning,” he told Kathimerini.

He noted that while pine trees have the potential to regenerate, if the summers continue to be hot and dry, saplings may not survive. “Climate change also plays a role in the potential for regeneration, and Parnitha was very badly hit in 2007 and is, unfortunately, being hit again, with a crescendo of poor managements,” he told Kathimerini

Depending on which parts of the forest were burned, autumn floods may even reach the urban fabric. “The roots hold back the soil and rocks, so if they were burned, it can, in a sudden rain, all come down [the mountainside],” Xanthopoulos said.

 

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Cyprus  |  Greece  |  blaze  |  firefighters

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