Two firefighters killed battling blaze on Greek island as wildfires continue across Mediterranean

Varadkar says travel operators should ‘err on the side of fairness’ when compensating affected customers

A plane fighting wildfires in Greece crashed killing two airmen and Algeria battled to control an inferno in which at least 34 people were killed on Tuesday as large areas of the Mediterranean continued to swelter under an intense summer heatwave.

The plane, which had been dropping water, came down on a hillside close to the town of Karystos on the Greek island of Evia, east of Athens. The captain and co-pilot both died, the air force said.

Greece has been particularly hard hit by wildfires, with authorities evacuating more than 20,000 people in recent days from homes and resorts in the south of the holiday island of Rhodes.

Close to 3,000 holidaymakers, including some from Ireland, had returned home by plane as of Tuesday, according to figures from the Greek transport ministry, and tour operators, including TUI, have cancelled upcoming trips.


Speaking in Dublin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said travel operators should “err on the side of fairness and generosity” when it came to compensating passengers whose holidays were affected by the Greek fires.

He said it was a “really serious situation” after Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said unprecedented heat this summer had been “truly scary”.

Climate experts have warned that extreme temperatures and weather events in the Mediterranean are more likely in the coming years due to greenhouse gases emitted by human activity heating the Earth’s atmosphere.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar said: “I really think it is important that travel operators put safety first, they’re going to have to make a decision based on the different circumstances in the different resorts, in the different islands, but I really think that they have to put the safety of their customers and holidaymakers first.”

The Taoiseach said there might be a sense that people were evacuated unduly or unnecessarily because of early intervention by authorities, but he said that measure prevented deaths and injuries.

Earlier, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the vast majority of the Irish public believe climate change was happening and that Ireland needed to focus more on adapting to withstand extreme weather events.

“I mean, the era of denial is gone, more or less, bar the fundamentalists who still don’t believe in the fact and the reality of climate change.”

He said Ireland’s economy and rising population presented challenges to achieving further emission reductions.

Responding to the warnings from the Climate Change Advisory Council, which said Ireland was not acting fast enough to achieve a 51 per cent reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, Mr Martin said some progress had been made, but it needed to happen faster.

“But we need to do more and we need to do much more faster.”

Extreme weather throughout July has caused havoc across the planet, with record temperatures in China, the US and southern Europe sparking forest fires, water shortages and a rise in heat-related hospital admissions.

In North Africa, Algeria was fighting to contain devastating forest fires along its Mediterranean coast in a blaze which has already killed at least 34 people. Fanned by strong winds, fires also forced the closure of two border crossings with neighbouring Tunisia.

Wildfires also broke out in the countryside around Syria’s Mediterranean port city, Latakia, with the authorities using army helicopters to try to put them out.

Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his country was one of those on the front line against climate change, with no easy solution. “I will state the obvious: in the face of what the entire planet is facing, especially the Mediterranean which is a climate change hotspot, there is no magical defence mechanism, if there was, we would have implemented it,” he said. – Additional reporting: PA and Reuters

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times