Greece is facing a “natural disaster of unprecedented proportions,” as 586 wildfires burn in “all corners” of the country, according to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The Mediterranean nation is broiling under one of its worst heat waves in decades and firefighters continue to battle blazes across the country. Sixty-three organized evacuations have taken place in the past few days, Mitsotakis said in a televised address on Monday.
He also apologized “for any weaknesses” on the part of the government in containing the wildfires, which have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced people to evacuate dozens of villages over the past week.
“These last days have been some of the most difficult for our country in decades,” Mitsotakis said, citing the extreme heat and months of drought as issues that have complicated firefighting efforts.
In photos: Europe battles wildfires amid scorching heat waves
Greece’s second-largest island, Evia, has been at the center of the storm of fires that have ravaged the country. Over half of the island has burned, according to local officials.
The fires have been devastating for Greeks who rely on the forests for their livelihood. In Evia, local residents told CNN that national assistance came too late. And their produce – including resin, honey, olives and figs – has been destroyed in the flames.
Environmental authorities have warned that southern Europe, where droughts are becoming more frequent and severe, is at the greatest risk from the impacts of climate change on the continent.
“It is obvious that the climate crisis is affecting the whole planet,” Mitsotakis said. “That is the explanation, but not an excuse, or an alibi. We may have done everything that was humanly possible, but in many cases this did not seem to be enough in the unequal battle with nature,” he added.
On Monday, a state-of-the-science report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded it is “unequivocal” that humans have caused the climate crisis and confirmed that “widespread and rapid changes” have already occurred, some of them irreversibly.
Scientists are more confident than ever in connecting the dots between the climate crisis and extreme weather: globally, droughts that may have occurred only once every 10 years or so now happen 70% more frequently, according to the report. And amid unrelenting drought and record heat, wildfire seasons are now longer and result in more destructive fires.
While Europe has battled wildfires for weeks, across the Mediterranean, North Africa is also facing the threat. At least 25 Algerian People’s National Army members have been killed while fighting wildfires east of the Algerian capital Algiers since Monday, the country’s president Abdelmadjid Tebboune said in a post to Twitter on Tuesday.
The country has recorded 103 fires in 17 provinces since Monday, according to the Algeria Press Service (APS) report on Tuesday.
The military personnel died after rescuing more than 100 people “from the blazing fires” in the mountains of Bejaia and Tizi -Ouzou in the east of the capital.
Anger at government response
Hundreds of protesters rallied outside the Greek Parliament in Athens on Monday over the government’s handling of the wildfires.
“We are protesting against the government that has let all the country burn, because of profits before people,” demonstrator Nikos Loutos told Reuters. “We are protesting because they give millions for buying warplanes and police and not for the fire brigade.”
Another protester, Anna Mitilineou, said: “There is a lot of rage in the public because they have not staffed the special forest fire brigade. The forest fire brigade puts out fires in the forests, not the regular firefighters, and they dismantled them, that is why we are burning.”
Prime Minister Mitsotakis said any failures in Greece’s firefighting response will be identified, those responsible will be held to account and people whose property was destroyed will be compensated.
The prime minister will chair a cabinet meeting on Tuesday which will announce specific measures to tackle the effects of the wildfires.
Chris Liakos and Elinda Labropoulou reported from Evia, Greece. Amy Woodyatt wrote from London. Angela Fritz, Rachel Ramirez, Tim Lister and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed reporting.