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Firefighters in Greece Tackle More Than 200 Wildfires in 48 Hours

Temperature records broken in France and red alerts issued in Italy as late summer heatwave continues in southern Europe

Firefighters in Greece have battled more than 200 blazes in the past 48 hours, officials say, as swaths of southern Europe bake in a late summer heatwave that has broken a number of all-time records and triggered red alerts across France and Italy.

Wildfires in Greece, which have killed 20 people in the past three days, have been raging out of control just north-west of Athens and in the far north-east. Authorities have warned that the heat and gale-force winds risk fuelling more and have urged extreme vigilance.

Firefighters had been called out to tackle 355 fires over the past five days, Greece’s climate crisis and civil protection minister, Vassilis Kikilias, said on Wednesday, including 209 that had started in the previous 48 hours.

He said conditions had been the worst since Greece began collecting weather data and issuing a fire risk map, Large areas have been placed at level five – the highest fire risk – seven times this year, double the total for 2021 and seven times that of 2012.

A wildfire that broke out on Tuesday and roared up a mountain toward the Parnitha national park north-west of Athens has smothered the capital with smoke and ash and forced the evacuation of neighbourhoods, nursing homes and a migrant camp.

Near the north-eastern port city of Alexandroupolis, near the Turkish border, authorities were trying to identify 18 bodies, thought to be migrants, discovered on Tuesday as firefighters battled the country’s largest fire.

A supreme court prosecutor ordered an investigation into whether organised groups of arsonists were operating in the region after government officials said the fire had started in 15 different places, creating a vast front.

France, Germany, Sweden, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania and the Czech Republic have sent firefighters and equipment including planes and helicopters to help Greece fight the blazes, the EU said.

Fire vehicles
Firefighters prepare to tackle a wildfire in Turkey’s Çanakkale province. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Across the border in Turkey, authorities temporarily closed the key Dardanelles Strait shipping lane linking the Aegean Sea and Black Sea to allow helicopters and planes to scoop up water to douse a fire that has raged in the area for two days.

Authorities in Çanakkale province evacuated an elderly care home and more than 1,250 people from nine villages and closed down a motorway. More than 80 people were treated in nearby hospitals for the effects of smoke inhalation.

France’s meteorological office reported the country’s highest average temperature for late summer – measured across 30 weather stations – since it began keeping records in 1947, as all-time local records tumbled across the south.

The southern city of Toulouse recorded its highest ever temperature on Wednesday at almost 41C (105.8F), as did dozens of towns and villages further east, including Narbonne, Carcassonne and Millau, with several nearing or even surpassing 43C.

A woman fans herself
A woman fans herself in Toulouse, which recorded it’s highest ever temperature. Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images

The national power company, EDF, issued a production warning for its Saint Alban nuclear plant on the River Rhone when its cooling water became too warm. Similar warnings have been issued this summer at other plants.

Firefighters in Spain have stabilised most of a huge wildfire that has raged for more than a week on Tenerife, forcing the evacuation of 12,000 people and burning through 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of land, about 7% of the island’s surface area.

Several thousand residents had now returned to their homes, the Canary island’s head of emergencies, Manuel Miranda, said. “It is not yet under control, far from it, but the largest part is stabilised. It has been an extremely difficult battle,” he said.

On the mainland, which is enduring its fourth heatwave of the summer, people who normally receive food and other necessities from the NGO Fundación Madrina were also handed fans to help cope with the extreme temperatures.

Several fires were also reported in Italy, including near the seaside resort of Sanremo. Red heat alerts – signifying a risk to healthy as well as frail people – have been issued for 17 of the country’s 27 main cities, including Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice.

Scientists have said extreme weather events such as heatwaves, drought and floods will become more frequent, more intense and longer-lasting because of human-induced climate change.

Source : The Guardian