KEFALONIA: Extreme heat and wildfires continued to plague parts of southern Europe on Wednesday, a day after the top temperature in Greece reached 47.1 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) -- just shy of the highest ever recorded in Europe, reports CNN.
Greece is facing one of its worst heatwaves in decades and the country remains on high alert as it continues to battle blazes across the country.
Residents of the Greek capital, Athens, have been warned to stay indoors with their windows closed because of poor air quality after a wildfire raged Tuesday in the suburbs north of the capital. The extreme heat forced the Ministry of Culture to close the Acropolis and other ancient sites from noon to 5 p.m. local this week.
The Greek Fire Service said Wednesday it had been called to intervene in 78 forest fires in the past 24 hours. A fire on the large island of Evia, northeast of Athens, was burning strongly on Wednesday.
Wildfires also continued to burn Tuesday in parts of Turkey, fueled by the extreme heat. At least eight people had died as a result of the fires in Mugla and Antalya provinces as of Tuesday, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
The region’s heatwave comes on the heels of devastating wildfires last week in Spain, Greece and the Italian island of Sardinia and less than a month after catastrophic flooding in northern Europe claimed more than 200 lives.
Experts say freak weather events like the floods in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the recent heatwave and wildfires across Canada and the US, are a sign of the impacts of climate change.
CNN forecasters said the region’s current heatwave would last until at least Friday, with the peak of heat coming Tuesday and Wednesday for Greece. Temperatures were expected to again be up to 10 degrees above average Wednesday, at over 40 degrees Celsius, in Greece and western Turkey.
The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), an EU program, said Wednesday that the Mediterranean region was evolving into a “wildfire hotspot” and warned that the fires already burning were emitting large amounts of smoke pollution into the atmosphere.
“In Turkey and southern Italy, CAMS data shows the emissions and intensity of wildfires are rapidly increasing, and countries like Morocco, Albania, Greece, North Macedonia and Lebanon are also affected,” it said in a news release.
“Smoke plumes from the fires are clearly visible in satellite imagery crossing the Eastern Mediterranean Basin from southern Turkey.”
In Greece, more than 200 locations topped 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday. The top temperature of 47.1C (117 F), registered in Langadas in Thessaloniki, was less than one degree from the all-time European record of 48.0C recorded in Athens, Greece, in 1977.
Greece’s weather service warned that the risk of fire remained very high Wednesday and Thursday. “The prolonged heat conditions prevailing in our country have increased the flammability of dead fuel to extremely high levels in almost the entire territory, making any use of fire extremely dangerous,” it said.
The fire on the outskirts of Athens is mostly under control but fears remain that it could surge up again, according to the authorities.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Wednesday that there had been no loss of life and that the emergency evacuation system had worked. He stressed that the next days would be crucial because of the heatwave and that everyone should remain on alert.
Several residential areas have been evacuated, according to the Greek Fire Service.
As the fire spread Tuesday north of the capital, authorities urged residents to leave the Athens suburbs of Varimpompi, Adames, and Thrakomakedones, as well as the Olympic village. The fire also threatened the Tatoi Royal Palace.
Firefighters also battled strong blazes on the Greek islands of Kos and Evia, as well as the Peloponnese peninsula, as some residents were evacuating.
“The hours are critical and the conditions we face extremely dangerous,” Greece’s Deputy Minister for Civil Protection, Nikos Hardalias, said Tuesday. “Our country is experiencing an extreme weather phenomenon the last days, one of the worst heatwaves of the last 40 years.”
Updating journalists on the Athens-area fire Wednesday, Hardalias said an initial estimate was that 76 houses and 27 businesses had been seriously damaged. More than 70 people have been taken to the hospital with respiratory problems since Tuesday, Greek Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias added.