Wildfires ravage Europe as temperatures rise

Villages are destroyed, thousands are forced to evacuate and vast areas of forest are set ablaze

Tourists waiting to be evacuated  as wildfires move  towards the shore in Bodrum,  Turkey. Photograph: AP Photo/Emre Tazegul

Tourists waiting to be evacuated as wildfires move towards the shore in Bodrum, Turkey. Photograph: AP Photo/Emre Tazegul

 

Wildfires fanned by warm winds and scorching temperatures have swept southern Europe, forcing thousands to evacuate, killing eight in Turkey and consuming vast areas of forest.

Fires are affecting parts of Europe that were once untouched as the continent experiences record heatwaves and droughts, and will become increasingly fierce and common as climate change drives up temperatures, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has warned.

There were dramatic scenes in the tourist resort of Bodrum in Turkey as the coast guard, yachts and private boats evacuated 2,240 people by sea over the weekend as fires swept down to the coast from its wooded hills.

Local mayor Ahmet Aras appealed for “urgent help” over social media on Monday “to defend the last remaining forests in Bodrum, to protect life”.

“We continue our struggle with the support of our people to end this nightmare as soon as possible,” Aras wrote, sharing images of fire continuing to devour the area’s pine forests, and air thick with smoke.

Turkey suffered 138 forest fires in 35 provinces over the past week, according to the government. Croatia and Spain sent firefighting planes to douse the flames under the EU’s emergency response system as the fires destroyed farmlands and homes.

“We cannot do anything beyond wishing the mercy of God for the lives we have lost but we can replace everything that was burned,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on a visit to the hard-hit town of Manavgat, as his government batted away accusations it had been unprepared.

Smoke inhalation

In neighbouring Greece hospitals admitted people suffering from smoke inhalation as fires torched 3,000 acres of forest and olive groves near its third largest city Patras and swept the island of Rhodes, cutting electricity, and forcing the evacuation of villages and the tourist resort of Loggos.

The Civil Protection authority has warned of a high risk of further fires in the coming days in multiple regions, as temperatures are forecast to approach 45 degrees.

Fires have also raged across central and southern regions of Italy and on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Firefighters battled wildfires on 37,407 occasions since June 15th, according to the national fire service, an increase of 16,000 compared to last year.

In the central region of Pescara, fires devastated the Pineta Dannunziana nature reserve and reached as far as the beach. Aldo Schiavone, the owner of a bathing area, described the sudden appearance of flames and black smoke causing people to stampede from their deckchairs before the fire swept through its palm trees, umbrellas and sunbeds.

“I was behind the lifeguard tower and I saw people start to flee, with the black cloud. We tried to get people out...We saw the burning of the first palm tree, then the smoke and the stampede,” Schiavone told local media.

“It looked like they dropped an atomic bomb yesterday afternoon,” he said. “Those who were not there cannot believe what happened. We saved what could be saved.”

Worst forest fire

Fires have also affected Bulgaria, France, Portugal and Spain, while northern parts of Europe have not been left untouched. Finland suffered its worst forest fire in more than half a century as flames scorched 300 hectares of forest in a remote northwestern valley in recent days.

Russia has deployed its army to help battle thousands of wildfires in Siberia that torched through 1.5 million hectares of land and cloaked towns and cities in acrid smog in the midst of an exceptionally dry summer.

While forest fires do have a role in some ecosystems, most fires are intentionally or inadvertently caused by humans, and large-scale conflagrations destroy nature, pollute the water and air, and release further amounts of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, according to the EEA.