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Greece turns to tech to tackle wildfires as largest ever blaze in EU continues to burn

Smoke rises as a wildfire burns at Dadia National Park in the region of Evros, Greece, August 29, 2023
Smoke rises as a wildfire burns at Dadia National Park in the region of Evros, Greece, August 29, 2023 Copyright Reuters
Copyright Reuters
By Charlotte Elton with Reuters
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Climate change makes deadly blazes worse, the Greek PM has warned, as the Evros fire continues to burn.

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Greece will launch drones and install forest temperature sensors to improve preventive firefighting, the country’s prime minister has said, after criticism from climate activists over a devastating wildfire burning for almost two weeks.

A wildfire in the northeastern region of Evros, Europe's deadliest blaze this summer, continued to burn for the 14th day on Friday after killing at least 20 people.

The mammoth blaze - the largest single blaze ever recorded in the EU - has destroyed thousands of homes and livelihoods and scorched lush forests.

Summer wildfires are common in the Mediterranean nation but the government has said that extremely dry, windy and hot conditions that scientists link to climate change have made them worse this year.

"Although we were better prepared than any other year, we faced an unprecedented combination of incidents," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament, citing a severe heatwave in July, Greece's longest in years, then unusually high winds.

He said authorities had initiated steps to acquire more than 100 drones to monitor wildfires in real time. There are also plans to install temperature sensors at archaeological sites and in high-risk forests, while some 500 forest scientists and 1,000 more firefighters will be hired soon, Mitsotakis said.

Hundreds of firefighters continued to battle the massive Evros blaze on Friday, after further overnight evacuations.

Reuters
Cows stand in front of a burned hill as a wildfire burns at Dadia National Park in the region of Evros, Greece, August 29, 2023.Reuters

Why are environmentalists criticising the Greek government?

Environmentalists who advocate stronger international action to curb climate change have accused Greek authorities of spending more funds on extinguishing fires than on prevention.

Mitsotakis said tens of millions of euros were spent in wildfire prevention this year but that was still not enough.

"Is the climate crisis an alibi for everything? No, it's not," he told lawmakers, adding, however, that global warming had helped intensify wildfires that most of the time had been started by human negligence or arson.

In a post on social media platform X, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service said the Evros fire had ravaged at least 812.6 square kilometres (313.8 square miles), larger than New York City's 778.2 square kilometres (300.5 square miles).

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said at least 30 per cent of Greece's protected Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest had been lost.

Mitsotakis said he would ask European experts to assess the causes of the fire and suggest ways to help the forest grow back.

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