Greece is facing a severe wildfire crisis as a record-breaking heatwave has intensified drought conditions across the country. Thousands of tourists have been evacuated from their hotels as flames have engulfed several islands, including Rhodes, Corfu, and Evia. The Greek authorities have declared a state of emergency and have requested international assistance to combat the fires.
According to the UN, the Mediterranean region is a “climate change hotspot” that will be hit by ever-fiercer heatwaves, drought and fires supercharged by rising temperatures. The current heatwave in Greece is likely to become the country’s longest on record, with temperatures reaching up to 45°C (113°F) in some areas.
The wildfires have caused extensive damage to forests, crops, homes and infrastructure, as well as posing a serious threat to human health and safety. The smoke from the fires has also worsened the air quality in Athens and other cities, affecting people with respiratory problems.
One of the worst-hit islands is Rhodes, where a large wildfire has been burning since Tuesday in the central and southern part of the island. At least 12 hotels have been evacuated, officials say, in what Greek officials said was the largest evacuation effort in the country’s history. Some tourists have described chaotic and frightening scenes, with some having to leave on foot or find their own transportation after being told to leave.
The cause of the fires is still under investigation, but local authorities have suggested that some of them may have been started by arsonists. However, climate scientists say that rising temperatures and dry conditions are the main factors behind the increased fire risk.
The Greek government has mobilized more than 2,000 firefighters, 20 aircraft and hundreds of vehicles to fight the fires. It has also received support from other European countries, such as France, Germany, Spain and Cyprus, which have sent planes, helicopters and personnel to help.
The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has visited some of the affected areas and has pledged to provide financial aid and compensation to the victims. He has also acknowledged that climate change is a reality that needs to be addressed urgently.
“We are facing a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions,” he said on Monday. “We must all realise that dealing with climate change will be the greatest challenge for our generation.”