Forest fires in northeastern Greece are the largest ever recorded by the European Union

The forest fire still burning in northeastern Greece after 11 days is the largest ever recorded by the European Union and has so far claimed 20 lives with no sign of abating.

After igniting vast areas of land, the fire was concentrated in the Alexandroupolis and Evros regions, mainly deep in a forest near the border with Turkey on Tuesday.


It is an area that is difficult to access for firefighters and other emergency workers.

The fire has been blamed for 20 of the 21 wildfire-related deaths in Greece last week, 18 of them migrants.

The fire department said six planes and four helicopters are assisting 475 firefighters on the ground, supported by 100 vehicles. And 260 firefighters and a helicopter are working to combat another large blaze that has been burning for days in a forest on the southern slopes of Mount Parnitha, on the outskirts of the Greek capital.

The scale and destruction of the fire prompted a coordinated response from the European Union.

“The Commission is at this moment coordinating relief efforts on various fronts through the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism across Europe,” said EU spokesman Balaz Ojvari. “So, especially in the Alexandroupolis region of Greece, we are facing the largest forest fire ever recorded in the European Union. In this context, we have mobilized 12 aircraft from our RescEU fleet as well as more than 400 firefighters and 60 vehicles.”

Authorities are investigating the causes of the fires, which over the past week have destroyed large areas of forest, burned homes and led to the evacuation of thousands of people.

In Athens, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chaired a government meeting on how to rehabilitate the burnt forests of Evros and Parnitha. It decided to mark all burned areas for reforestation, take action to prevent flooding later in the year and provide access to food and water for the remaining wildlife in the area.

With firefighting forces stretched to the limit, Greece asked for help from other European countries, receiving 12 planes and hundreds of firefighters from across the continent.

France and Spain are sending additional aircraft to join those already sent from Germany, Sweden, Croatia, Cyprus and the Czech Republic under the European Union’s emergency response mechanism.

More than 350 firefighters have also been dispatched to Greece from Romania, France, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Albania, Slovakia and Serbia.

This was the bloc’s largest aerial firefighting operation and “underlines our commitment to swift and effective collective action in times of crisis,” Janiz Lenarcic, the EU’s chief crisis management official, said on Tuesday.


The Alexandroupolis and Evros forest fire, which broke out on August 19, has destroyed more than 81,000 hectares (200,000 acres) of land, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service. Copernicus is the Earth observing component of the European Space Program and uses satellite images to provide mapping data.

The European Commission on Tuesday described the fire as the largest single fire recorded in the bloc since the European Forest Fire Information System began recording data in 2000.

Firefighters were battling 74 forest fires across Greece on Monday, 27 of which broke out in the 24 hours between Sunday evening and Monday evening, the fire department said.

Some of the fires are suspected to be arson, and several people have been arrested.

Greece imposes forest fire prevention regulations, usually from the beginning of May to the end of October, limiting activities such as burning dried plants and the use of outdoor barbecues.


As of Friday, fire department officials had arrested 163 people on fire-related charges since the start of the fire prevention season, including 118 on charges of negligence and 24 on charges of arson, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said. He added that the police arrested 18 others.

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