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Society

Running From Hell: The Flight From Greece’s Fires

August 8, 2021

The memories of devastating wildfires in 2007 and 2018 that killed hundreds of people across Greece were rekindled as dozens of blazes roared through the country for six days, into Aug. 8, with scenes of desperate people running for their lives as flames destroyed homes.

Some 1,153 people at the seaside village of Limni on the big island of Evia northeast of Athens had to be rescued at night, pulling away on a ferry boat with the backdrop of huge flames towering into a night sky atop forests and hills.

One of the blazes, on Mount Parnitha north of Athens – which had been massively damaged in the 2007 fires – led to evacuations and people fleeing their homes as the flames closed in.

Strong winds pushed the fire into the town of Thrakomakedones , where it burned homes. Residents had been ordered to leave and there were no immediate reports of casualties, said the news agency Reuters.

“(It’s) really bad,” said Thanasis Kaloudis, a resident of the town. “All of Greece has burned,” he told the news site.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, speaking after visiting the main fire control centre in Athens, called it a “nightmarish summer,” adding the government’s priority “has been, first and foremost, to protect human lives,” the report added.

The fires struck during a near record heatwave and the COVID-19 pandemic, and as tourists were in smoked-covered downtown Athens and on islands where the Coronavirus is rampaging again, tourism workers not required to be vaccinated.

The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) warned that the Mediterranean has become a wildfire hotspot with a heatwave producing a high risk of further fires and smoke pollution around the region.

Reports ranged from 154 to 400 fires of varying sizes as Greece burned, some past fires blamed on the urge for developers to then build on the cleared land as Mitsotakis became the first Premier to say he would prohibit that and require reforestation.

Other areas hard hit and in danger before legions of firefighters and equipment beat back the blazes also included in the Peloponnese including Mani, Messinia and ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games.

The government planned to reimburse people affected by the fires although putting them up in temporary shelters during the heat wave was complicated by measures against public gatherings as part of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Our business, our home, all of our property is there. I hope they don’t burn,” Yorgos Papaioannou, 26, told the news agency as he sat a parking lot with his girlfriend as ash fell around them, leaving their new home after one day.

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