What lessons can Greece learn from this year's raging wildfires?

A helicopter flies over a wildfire in Giannouli village, in the northeastern Evros region, Greece, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023.
A helicopter flies over a wildfire in Giannouli village, in the northeastern Evros region, Greece, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. Copyright AP/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews with AP
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The forest fire in Evros, Greece, was the largest single wildfire recorded in the European Union since it started keeping records in 2000. More than 80,000 hectares of land were destroyed, according to the EU.

That inferno raged uncontrollably for 16 straight days.

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Greece has been stricken by hundreds of wildfires this summer, with dozens of new blazes breaking out each day. The vast majority have been extinguished quickly.

But opposition parties have slammed the government and said it was not ready for this year's wildfire season. 

“You left the country unprepared and defenceless against this danger,” Sokratis Famellos from SYRIZA main opposition party said.

Uncredited/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Burnt trees stand as a wildfire burns in Giannouli village, in the northeastern Evros region, Greece, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023.Uncredited/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has defended his government's response to wildfires and said climate change and a protracted heatwave followed by very strong winds were largely to blame.

Forester Dora Skartsi said as fires broke out high priority was immediately given to settlements and infrastructure. 

"At the same time, the fire very quickly threatened Alexandroupoli," she said.

"So, you understand that priority was given there and the forest fire was left to burn wherever it found green vegetation."

Seeing its firefighting forces stretched to the limit, Greece called on other European countries for help. 

Hundreds of firefighters from Romania, France, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Albania, Slovakia and Serbia have helped battle the blazes, along with 12 aircraft from Germany, Sweden, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France and Spain.

Ilias Vintsis, the President of the Dadia Community, recalled how fast the flames raged.  

“While we had a lot of fire brigades, both vehicles and foot units, we were suddenly down to only six cars," he said.

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"These had to cover a big distance, a long radius and over many kilometres."

AP/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Firefighters operate during a wildfire in Giannouli village, in the northeastern Evros region, Greece, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023.AP/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Authorities have said preventative measures such as fire breaks and the clearing of weeds and vegetation could have prevented the fires from spreading out of control but many of these municipalities were left to grow wild.

Vintsis said the efforts of volunteers, forest workers, loggers and firefighters would go to waste if settlements were not prepared for fire season.

"These settlements must be shielded with fire zones," he said. "You can't have an earthmoving machine on the front of the fire and bulldozers that drop trees so they can cut the fire front." 

Thousands of people in the Alexandroupolis and Evros area have to be evacuated, though the vast majority have since moved back.

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