Home World Greece’s fires in 2023 destroyed forests, monasteries and vineyards

Greece’s fires in 2023 destroyed forests, monasteries and vineyards

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Greece’s fires in 2023 destroyed forests, monasteries and vineyards

The monastery of Panagia Ipsene, on the Greek island of Rhodes, was surrounded by a fast-moving fire in July. (Nicole Tong for The Washington Post)

Rhodes, Greece – As flames approached the 19th-century monastery of Panagia Ipsene, nuns barricaded themselves inside. A village diviner dreamed in the 1990s that women were responsible for the secluded life in the sanctuary, prompting the Orthodox Church to replace its male monks with sisters. Now those nuns refused to leave, vowing to put out the raging fires with prayers and buckets of water.

But this was no ordinary fire. In what seemed like minutes, blazing hot whirlpools engulfed the workshop where the nuns were working on the icons of Saint Meletius and the Virgin and Child. Smoke filled the monastery’s mosaic courtyards. The olive groves and vineyards that were the source of their livelihood were on fire.

“It was like seeing hell,” said Mother Superior Maryam Nikityadi.

In a summer of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere, the Mediterranean region faces what seemed on the ground to be an existential threat. A toxic combination of extreme heat and drought, plus human malice or carelessness, has set the region aflame, killing dozens and causing untold damage by the millions.

It is a scenario that scientists did not expect to become a reality so soon.

“The number of days with very high or very high fire risk in southern Europe has already reached levels we thought we wouldn’t see until 2050,” said Jesus San Miguel, a senior researcher at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. “Because of climate change, we are going much faster than we thought.”

Wildfires – some of them record-breaking – have turned pristine forests into supernatural lunar landscapes, and prompted mass evacuations of developed areas. The fires also threaten the cultural heritage of a part of the world known as much for the relics of ancient civilization as for the joys of modern holidays.

In pictures and video: the scene of the spread of deadly forest fires in Greece

Climate change has been altering aspects of life in the Mediterranean for some time. Warming seas have threatened the Greek table, decimating mussel crops and bringing in an army of invasive fish that prey on traditional catches like squid and snapper. Air conditioners now stick out from many whitewashed homes.

But the wildfires offer a grim glimpse of a hotter, drier future – and a brutal reminder of the challenges ahead.

Record wildfires in Greece endanger habitats and culture

Even as summer draws to a close, the fires are still burning. And in Sicily, a fire destroyed the 15th-century church of Santa Maria di Gesu, turning an ancient wooden statue of the Virgin Mary into a scorched log and devouring the 434-year-old remains of Saint Benedict of Morocco. And in Spain’s Canary Islands last month, 26,000 people in Tenerife had to evacuate their homes as fires spiraled out of control.

This year, however, the devastation was no worse than in Greece, a place filled with priceless antiquities and rich local traditions that are now struggling against a historic conflagration.

Hundreds of firefighters – including reinforcements from across Europe – battled for nearly two weeks to contain a massive blaze in northern Greece that has killed 20 people and consumed an area four times larger than New York City, making it the largest fire ever recorded in the country’s history. borders of the European Union.

Greece is struggling to contain Europe’s largest ever forest fire

Much of Dadia’s forest has burned, leading experts to fear that its supposedly protected ecosystem, home to golden eagles and four species of vultures, may never recover. Alexandros Dimitrakopoulos, head of the Faculty of Forestry and Natural Environment at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, told the Greek press that Dadia “will never be seen again as we knew her”.


Dangerous fiery weather is expected in a warm world

Based on 1.5°C warming

Most Spain We could experience two to four months of dangerous fire weather each year.

A scenario that has already begun this year.

Rising temperatures and increasing drought Rhodes It will fuel the spread of wildfires.

Note: The map shows the frequency of days when the fire risk is high to severe.

Source: Joint Research Centre, European Commission (2017 forecasts)

veronica penny/

Washington Post

Dangerous fiery weather is expected in a warm world

Based on 1.5°C warming

Most Spain We could experience two to four months of dangerous fire weather each year.

A scenario that has already begun this year.

Rising temperatures and increasing drought Rhodes It will fuel the spread of wildfires.

Note: The map shows the frequency of days when the fire risk is high to severe.

Source: Joint Research Centre, European Commission (2017 forecasts)

veronica penny/

Washington Post

Dangerous fiery weather is expected in a warm world

Based on 1.5°C warming

Rising temperatures and increasing drought Rhodes It will fuel the spread of wildfires.

Most Spain You could see two to four months of dangerous fire weather each year, a scenario that really kicked in this year.

Note: The map shows the frequency of days when the fire risk is high to severe.

veronica penny/

Washington Post

Source: Joint Research Centre, European Commission (2017 forecasts)

Some days, Greeks wake up to dozens of new fires. Athenians – as well as tourists combing the Acropolis – watched nervously last week as smoke from orange flames rose from the hills outside the capital.

“This is a time of crisis,” said Vassilis Kikilias, Greece’s climate crisis and civil protection minister. “We are all under pressure.”

The fires have sparked a national debate about causes and responses.

Officials point to the arsonists – dozens of suspects have been arrested in recent weeks – and an unfortunate combination of sweltering heat, dryness and wind. Some Greek leaders also implicated migrants who sought refuge in the forests (at least 19 of them died in the recent fires).

Responding to criticism that the government was not sufficiently prepared, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Thursday announced plans to buy fire-monitoring drones, deploy heat sensors at key sites and hire more scientists and firefighters.

At the same time, environmental groups say the focus should be on fire prevention, water management and the urgency of tackling climate change — with the uneasy knowledge that wildfires have sent Greece’s carbon emissions soaring.

But with summer temperatures in southern Europe rising three times faster than the global average, many people here are wondering if the Mediterranean way of life can be salvaged.

After a fire in Rhodes scenes of destruction

Fire is a pest in Greece as old as the conquest of the Romans, Persians and Ottomans. But even seasoned firefighters were alarmed by the unprecedented intensity of the July blaze, which burned 14 percent of Rhodes over 10 burning days.

Rhodes is wetter and greener than many of the Greek islands. However, the 100-degree heat made it impossible to put out the fire, as the water from the planes evaporated before it reached the flames.

“This wasn’t just a fire, it was a phenomenon. I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Nikitas Venios, the 58-year-old fire chief of Rhodes. I have never seen the air burn and the soil boil. This is something new.”

By the time the fire was brought under control, it had consumed thousands of acres of forest, consumed 50,000 olive trees and required the evacuation of 20,000 people, as happened in Dunkirk.

This mass evacuation – described as the largest in Greek history – has been heralded by the Greek authorities as an example of effective crisis management. They credit a new alert system that sends warnings to people’s phones within evacuation zones for helping avert the horrific deaths from Maui’s recent fire.

Maui’s chief of emergency services resigns after being criticized for not activating sirens during the fire

But critics – including locals who helped tourists escape with their personal cars and boats – have described scenes of chaos and accused local officials of failing to put together a comprehensive evacuation plan as required by Greek law. They claim that the bulk of professional help in fighting the fires went towards helping luxury hotels and their wealthy owners, while local villages had to rely more on volunteer efforts. And they say the only death in the Rhodes fires – of a volunteer firefighter – was mostly a matter of chance.

“It is fortunate that more people have not been infected,” said Christos Maliarakis, president of the Rhodes International Society for Culture and Heritage. “The question now is what happens next. The fear is that parts of Rhodes will lose the magic that brought people here.

And in a country that relies heavily on tourism – and the island even more so – the Greek authorities have been desperate to repair the damage to public relations, promising free holidays next year to the evacuees. But in the long term, the vital tourism sector in southern Europe faces greater challenges. A study by the European Union in July predicted that global warming would reduce the number of visitors to some Greek islands by more than 9%, while boosting tourism to northern destinations such as Wales.

The medieval town of Rhodes, far from where the July fire broke out, remains unscathed and crowded with tourists. This is because in an age of fire, all effects are local. In the worst affected southern communities such as Kyotari and Lardos, many of the damaged hotels remain closed, and the main streets, which are usually full in summer, look like ghost towns.

Forest fires in Greece displace thousands as the heat wave reaches its peak

“All we care about is the season,” said Georgina Appolokiaes, co-owner of the beachfront Lighthouse restaurant in Kiotari, where three out of 15 tables were occupied one recent afternoon. “We live in August. And look around. We’re practically empty.”

On the drive home, where many of the village’s homes had been burned, she pointed to an undulating landscape of charred trees. “Who knows how long it will take to recover from this. I mean who will come on vacation to look at it that“.

Experts say one of the reasons the fires are spreading so quickly here is related to the gradual shift away from traditional life. There are fewer farmers and herders – whose sheep and goats graze in the green spaces that tend to slow the fires – and more hotel workers.

“Why? It’s hard work, and then something like that happens,” said Strivlos Mendes, a 67-year-old farmer standing amid the charred remains in his living room. A few feet away, the burned corpse of his dog, Mexicana, was wrapped up. In a vat of melted water.Mendes lost nearly half a flock of sheep in the fire.He is uninsured, like most people here, and has no idea how to rebuild.

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On the main coastal road south, Dimitris Hatzivotis, 26, stood amid the charred remains of Angelaki, a pub and local institution founded by his late father.

Home to a secret goat dish recipe and evening dancing to folk music under a clear starry sky, Anglaki was the A hangout for Kyotari locals – as well as the only restaurant open in the off-season.

On the morning of July 24, after a night spent helping save homes from fires in his village, he stood in front of the burning shell of the restaurant. He cried and initially refused to leave before local police gently pushed him to safety.

Hatziphotis was not a believer either.

Standing in the dimly lit room of the restaurant where a melting-down cash register is integrated into the office, he worried about Rhodes’ future. He said that the fires are a symptom of a greater disease. As an avid angler, he has watched predatory fish from warmer climates invade the waters off Rhodes, feasting on traditional catches of snapper and grouper. He once grew melons in Rhodes without water, and now, in the dry weather, he needs watering.

“Everything we know disappears,” he said.

Reported by Lapropolou of Athens.

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