Greece experiences the worst fires recorded in Europe in years

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The fires give no respite to Greece. Yesterday, the country continued to burn for the eighth consecutive day, in what, according to the satellite mapping service of the EU's Copernicus program, are already the worst fires recorded in Europe since records began. “We must continue to strengthen national and collective prevention efforts in the face of the prospect of more brutal fire seasons,” requested the European commissioner for crisis management, Janez Lenarcic, in a message on the social network X, the old Twitter.

After several Greek islands burned at the beginning of the season, causing the evacuation of thousands of residents and tourists, since Friday of last week, Greek firefighters have been fighting more than 500 fires declared around the country. Yesterday, although the situation was improving, three major fronts continued to worry the authorities: that around the Parnes national park, about 40 km north of Athens, and those in the regions of Boeotia and Evros, bordering Turkey. In total, so far this year the fire has burned the equivalent of 1.09% of the country's surface, a much higher percentage than the 0.33% on average during the period between 2006 and 2022. Hundreds of people have had to leave their homes. As firefighters began to contain the damage on Saturday, six more fires started southwest of Athens caused by a lightning storm. The same thing happened on the island of Andros, where lightning caused a fire that spread quickly due to strong winds. The authorities hope that with the rains and the drop in temperatures expected for this week the situation will be mitigated.

A total of 79 people have been arrested on suspicion of starting fires

“Greece is suffering its most difficult year in terms of weather conditions since we have weather records,” government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said this week. “It is the combination of high temperatures, drought and winds that unfortunately create ideal conditions for fires with extreme behavior,” he said.

However, in addition to the effects caused by climate change, some arsonists are also behind the fires. A total of 79 people have been arrested on suspicion of setting fires. Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias reported on Thursday several new attempts to start new fires northwest of Athens, which he accused of committing a “crime against the country.” “You won't get away with it. We will find you, you will be held accountable,” he promised.

Especially painful is the fire that is raging in the Evros River region, where, according to Copernicus, the fire has already destroyed more than 73,000 hectares. It was there where on Tuesday they found the bodies of at least 18 charred migrants, including two children, who were surely trying to cross this border river between Turkey and Greece to reach Europe. Another body was found in the area near Alexandroupolis, which is also believed to be that of a person attempting this route. In addition, a shepherd lost his life in the Boeotia region. In total, 21 people have died since last Saturday due to the fires.

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In Evros, of all the hectares burned in the last seven days, 13,000 of them are located in another national park, Dadia, which last year already suffered a strong fire that devastated 5,000 hectares.

The Supreme Court of Greece is now investigating whether it is possible that there was an organized plan to start the Evros fire and especially the alarming incitements of hatred against migrants and the unfounded accusations according to which they had started certain fires. This phenomenon has been magnified after a group of thirteen Pakistanis and Syrians were accused of having been caught red-handed while trying to light a fire near the city of Alexandroupolis. In a video on Facebook, a resident showed them, as if they were hunting loot, trapped in a trailer, claiming that they had tried to burn them. “Don't show them, burn them!” commented another user on the networks. This man, 45 years old and baptized the sheriff of Evros by the Greek media, has already been arrested along with two other collaborators.

Racism against migrants who usually take this route to avoid crossing the sea has long agitated this border region. Christos Paschalakis, a resident of Evros, told AFP that he was “absolutely convinced that the fires were caused by migrants.” “They burn us, they rob us, they kill us in traffic accidents,” he indicated, alluding to the sentiment of some locals who accuse human traffickers of causing risks on the roads through their reckless driving. Even on Greek social networks, calls to capture migrants are multiplying.

The issue has reached the political arena after a deputy from the Greek Solution, a far-right party that entered Parliament in the last elections – with broad support in this region – accused migrants of making the work of airplanes difficult. of the firefighters. The leader of this party, Kyriakos Velopoulos, joined the attacks and applauded the man arrested for illegally capturing them.

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