A wildfire whipped on by strong winds triggered a series of massive explosions Thursday at an air force ammunition depot in central Greece, while firefighters worked to tame multiple blazes in the country.
There were no injuries at the depot, which had been evacuated before the explosions, and by late Thursday the fire was no longer active. The Greek air force said that F-16 fighter jets at a nearby base were moved to another facility as a precaution, but that the base had not been under any immediate threat.
Fires have raged across parts of Greece during three successive Mediterranean heat waves in the past two weeks, leaving five people dead, including two firefighting pilots, and triggering a huge weekend evacuation of tourists on the island of Rhodes.
The fire in the Volos area of central Greece's Magnissia region reached the ammunition storage facility about 6 kilometres north of the major military air base in Nea Anchialos. Local media reported that bombs and ammunition for Greek F-16 fighters were stored at the site.
The large explosions shattered windows on houses in a surrounding area, but the Greek fire service said no severe injuries were reported in nearby villages, which also were evacuated as a precaution.
Fire Service spokesman Ioannis Artopios said 12 villages were ordered evacuated in the Volos-Nea Anchialos area.
“Despite their superhuman efforts, our forces were unable to stop the blaze,” he said.
Artopios said the Volos area blaze was the most dangerous of the 124 wildfires the fire service had to deal with Thursday.
The wildfire burned on three fronts and forced a section of Greece’s busiest highway to close for several hours, while national rail services passing through the area were delayed.
In Italy, firefighters battled brush fires in the southern mainland regions of Calabria and Puglia, as well as the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, helped by temperatures dropping some 13 degrees Celsius into the low- and mid-30s C . Sicily remained the focal point, with fires continuing to burn near the capital, Palermo, as seven aircraft were engaged to douse the flames.
“Without doubt, we can see that all across the Mediterranean the climate crisis is here and it’s affecting us all more strongly than perhaps even scientists had warned us about,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday during a meeting with the country's president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
Wildfire carbon emissions for July in Greece were the highest by a huge margin - totalling more than one metric megaton and doubling the previous record - since records started 20 years ago, according to the EU agency that analyzes satellite data, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.
“Unfortunately, it is not all that surprising, given the extreme conditions in the region,” said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the agency. “The observed intensity and estimated emissions show how unusual the scale of the fires has been for July relative to the last 20 years of data.”
An EU disaster response agency announced that it was sending two more firefighting planes, provided by France, to Greece.
In Athens, senior members of the armed forces paid tribute to the two pilots killed in a firefighting plane crash this week, at a ceremony held at the Defense Ministry.
Cpt. Christos Moulas and Lt. Pericles Stephanidis died during a low-altitude water drop on the island of Evia.
Defence Minister Nikos Dendias said the operators had shown “self-denial in the line of duty.”
“Greece today is in mourning. Their memories will live on,” Dendias said.
Funeral services for the two airmen were to be held in northern Greece later Thursday and on the island of Crete on Friday.
Gatopoulos reported from Athens. Associated Press writers Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy, and Venessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.