The Mercury News
Greece fires force beach rescue, approach Olympics birthplace
VARIBOBI, GREECE >> Greece evacuated people in boats from an island beach Wednesday amid heavy smoke from a nearby wildfire and fire crews fought to keep flames away from the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games as the country sweltered under a record heat wave.
With over 100 wildfires burning in Greece, the European Union sent assistance to it and other southeast European countries grappling with huge wildfires. The help came a day after another major blaze burned more than 100 homes and businesses near the Greek capital of Athens.
Civil Protection chief Nikos Hardalias said 118 wildfires broke out over the past 24 hours, and warned that even worse days could lie ahead for the hard-pressed fire service.
“We are making a titanic effort on many fronts,” he told an evening briefing. “According to our threat forecasts, tomorrow too is expected to be a difficult day ... The toughest part lies ahead of us, the next days and weeks will be even harder. Our key target is to protect human lives.”
Evacuations were taking place in Greece’s southern Peloponnese region due to a major fire near an
cient Olympia — where the Olympics were held every four years from 776 B.C. for more than a millennium. The adjacent town of Ancient Olympia was evacuated, with another seven nearby villages. The area was ravaged by wildfires in 2007 that cost dozens of lives but spared Olympia’s ruined sports venues and temples.
The coast guard evacuated about 90 people stranded on a beach near the northern village of Rovies on the island of Evia. Private boats helped in the operation. Media reports said three firefighters suffered burns. Several homes were burnt as well as swaths of forest.
Temperatures in Greece reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit Wednesday, in what authorities described as the worst heat wave since 1987. Neighboring countries face similar conditions, fueling deadly wildfires in Turkey and blazes in Italy and across the Mediterranean region. Officials in Albania said one person died of smoke inhalation near the southern city of Gjirokaster.
A coal-fueled power plant in southwest Turkey and nearby residential areas were being evacuated Wednesday evening as flames from a wildfire reached the plant, a mayor and local reporters said as sirens from the plant could be heard blaring.
Milas Mayor Muhammet Tokat, from Turkey’s main opposition party, has been warning of the fire risks for the past two days for the Kemerkoy power plant in Mugla province. He said late Wednesday that the plant was being evacuated. Local reporters said the wildfires had also prompted the evacuation of the nearby seaside area of Oren.
Turkey’s defense ministry said it was evacuating people by sea as the fires neared the plant. The state broadcaster TRT said the flames had “jumped” to the plant. Strong winds were making the fires unpredictable.
Authorities have said safety precautions had been taken at the Kemerkoy power plant and its hydrogen tanks were emptied. TRT said flammable and explosive substances had been removed. The privately run plant uses lignite to generate electricity, according to its website.
An EU disaster response group said firefighters and water-dropping planes were being sent from EU members to Italy, Greece, Albania and North Macedonia.