Tragedy struck in the form of fast moving forest fires in the Peloponnese region of Greece, many set, allegedly, by arson, and exacerbated, definitely, by climate change, which has led to the deaths of sixty-three people. [Video-ABC, Video-NBC]
ZAHARO, Greece - Massive forest fires swept across and killed at least 37 [sic] people in the south of the country, including several children, the fire department said Saturday. New fires broke out frequently, as embers were carried by the wind.
More than 170 fires raged across the country, from the western Ionian islands to in northwestern Greece and down to the south. At least 25 fires started long after dark, leading authorities to look into arson as a cause.
Thousands have been evacuated while relatives search for the missing. Among those lost were a mother and four children found in a burned car, as was a couple who died while in an embrace. Others perished while fleeing through olive groves and many more have been made homeless and destitute by the loss of residences, businesses, farms and groves.
Greece has called on the European Union for help. Their fire services are overwhelmed, the soldiers been brought in to assist were not trained to fight fires, and the overstretched support services are bracing for more fires that are expected during the next heatwave of 40 degrees c (104F).
The inferno also destroyed fragile mountain ecosystems — that will require decades to revive — and an entire rural way of life, threatening to turn thousands of villagers into environmental refugees.
The president of Greece has announced that "the nation is in a state of mourning," and says that "everything must be done to insure that it never happens again."
The BBC's Malcom Brabant referred to Greece's crisis as an "absolutely terrible summer with more than 3,000 [fires] so far that, until now, has been seen as a largely ecological disaster with some of the most beautiful landscapes being destroyed. But now it's taken on a very human dimension."
The prime minister called the situation "an unspeakable tragedy" and the government appealed to the EU for help. Greek newspapers are calling the southern Peloponnese region a "crematorium", says the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens.
Acting Interior Minister Spyros Flogaitis called on EU countries "to send any help they can".
The Prime Minister has declared that the fires had been "set by extremists ahead of next month's elections." If so, this was an unspeakable crime that follows extreme heat waves and resultant fires in other parts of Greece:
The loss of the Mount Parnitha Forest, long known as the “lungs of Athens,” burned earlier this summer in a nine-day heat wave at 46 degrees Celsius (114.8 degrees Fahrenheit). Mount Parnitha had cooled the air as it traveled down to the city of four million. Now the forest is gone and the air is hot and polluted – even by Athens’ standard.
The fire has reached the ancient heritage site of Olympia, location of the first Olympic Games which holds both the ruins of the site and one of Greece's most important archaeological museum:
A massive effort by firefighters, assisted by water-dropping aircraft and firetrucks, succeeded in keeping a raging blaze away from the 2,800-year-old site -- the holiest sanctuary in ancient Greece.
Dr. Tsipouridis Ioannis, President of the Hellenic Wind Energy Association , in a message to the group Climate Concern, wrote: "Following a dry winter and during its 3rd major heat wave this summer (for the first time ever, so many), Greece is losing to uncontrolled fires one after the other its major forests. Today it was the turn of South Peloponnese. Unfortunately the catastrophe has turned to tragedy." Dr. Ioannis added: "that the situation has worsened and it is a national disaster, as there are fires in many more places, including , the number of dead has risen to at least 41, there is a large number of missing persons and many people trapped in the areas affected."
A monastery was evacuated and the main highway between Athens and its international airport blocked off when two forest fires broke out near the Greek capital, authorities said on Saturday."The motorway has been shut down," a fire department spokesman said. "Two firefighting planes, one helicopter and 20 fire engines are combating the fire."