'Unprecedented' Fire Tears Through Greece & How You Can Help
Greece's worst heatwave in 3 decades sent temperatures flying to 45 C, causing extreme arid conditions causing unprecedented fires and destruction.
The sky turned an eerie orange and billows of smoke blocked out the sun as fires raged and devoured forest and homes across Greece's second-largest island of Evia. Evacuation alerts have been going off for days as villagers flee the inferno that is rapidly encroaching. The fires began Aug. 3 and have burned out of control coast to coast. Home after home and businesses have been destroyed, and thousands of people have been displaced. Many were forced to escape the blaze via ferry in the middle of the night.
The mayor of Istiaia in Evia, Giannis Kontzias declared, "It's already too late, the area has been destroyed," he and many other local government officials pleaded on television for water-dropping planes and helicopters. Activists and locals also mounted online campaigns calling for the government to do more to help, many noting corruption and Greece's large financial contributions to out-of-state institutions like NATO.
In many places, villagers felt abandoned by the government. As fires encroached on the village of Arkitsa, its residents complained of being left to fend for themselves. "We were completely forsaken. There were no fire brigades, there were no vehicles, nothing!" David Angelou told The Associated Press. "You could feel the enormous heat. There was also a lot of smoke. You could see the sun, a red ball, and then, nothing else around," Villagers fought back the flames, unsuccessfully, with garden hoses. Christina Tsatou, from the village of Agios Georgios, told the press that, "There was ash and smoke everywhere, ... It is very sad that they did not send help in the first days and they left the island burning. It was unfair and many people have lost their property, their livelihoods."
The Evia fire, according to Civil Protection Chief Nikos Hardalias, was blazing on two fronts: north and south. According to him, the helicopters and planes that dropped water there faced particularly difficult conditions, whose pilots faced grave danger with limited visibility and air turbulence "All the forces that have been fighting a difficult battle all these days will continue operating with unabated intensity, with the same self-sacrifice."
Greece's Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, announced the country was facing, “a natural disaster of unprecedented dimensions”. Mitsotakis said the crisis is a reflection of climate change. “These last few days have been the hardest for our country in decades.” Additionally, Mitsotakis apologized for the lack of proper response to the emergency. Mitsotakis has promised to compensate fire victims immediately. Following an emergency cabinet meeting, a series of relief measures were announced, including an initial payment of €150,000 in state funds for anyone who has lost a home to the fires. Victims will be relieved of tax obligations for the next three years and will receive 70% compensation for other losses. Upon the end of the wildfires, Evia will be the focus of a huge regeneration program involving the planting of fire-resistant trees.
More than 20 countries have responded, sending planes, helicopters, vehicles and manpower. A multinational force of almost 900 firefighters is now in the area attempting to subdue the fires. At least 50 ground teams and 229 vehicles were fighting the blaze, including 112 Romanian and 100 Ukrainian firefighters. Four helicopters and three planes provided air support. In addition, Turkey and Russia said they would send planes to reinforce the firefighters already dispatched by Europe, countries in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
All around the north of the island of #evia firefighters from twenty different countries are helping to put out the flames that keep appearing everywhere. This team, a mix of Greeks and Ukrainians, are working near the village of Artemisio in tricky circumstances. #itvnews pic.twitter.com/HptsfqErFr— Natalie Wright (@Nflwright) August 9, 2021
Several people have been treated for fire-related injuries, including two firefighters hospitalized in intensive care, at least one firefighter has died due to falling debris amid the inferno.
Fire investigation: Arson
The causes of the fires are under investigation. A total of eight people have been arrested in Greece, including two people who were arrested on suspicion of attempted arson: a 71-year-old Greek in southern Greece and a foreigner in an Athens park.
World on fire
Climate change has also been blamed by Greek and European officials for a large number of fires across southern Europe, from Italy to the Balkans to Greece and Turkey. Several large fires have also been burning in northern Siberia for weeks, forcing the evacuation of a dozen villages on Saturday. In total, Russian wildfires have burned around 6 million hectares so far this year. Devastating wildfires have also occurred in the United States and Canada due to hot, dry, gusty weather.
How you can help
Several organizations, activists, and NGOs are working with local authorities to help identify individuals that are most in need of help. The members of the Greek diaspora have set up several campaigns worldwide.
The Greeks Reporters organization setup a gofundme to help people in Evia, and has collected at least $85,000. You can donate, here.
The Hellenic Initiative has collected $87,000 in contributions as of Monday. You can donate, here.
AHEPA, set up a fund to help the victims. You can donate to its “Charitable Fund,” here.
The Hellenic Red Cross is also helping the victims of the fires; you can donate through its website, here.
Additionally, Greeks living abroad are setting up GoFundMe pages as part of their own personal efforts to help with the fire recovery. Born in Greece, but now living in the United States, Melia Kreiling raised over $7,000 through her own campaign. The funds were sent to Hellenic Red Cross and the wildlife protection organization called “Anima,” so they can acquire the supplies to help the hundreds of victims who have lost everything.
While no single fundraiser can bring back everything the fire has destroyed, solidarity and goodwill can provide families with the comfort they need during these difficult times.