9 Aug 2021

Families flee devastating wildfires in Greece


As we drive north on the island of Evia in Greece the sky turns from blue to grey and the ashen remains from the wildfires haunt the landscape. 


The air is claustrophobic and thick with smoke that sticks to the back of your throat. Your eyes sting, there is ash raining down on you and visibility is terrible.

In the last week, the fires have spread across most of the north of the second-largest Greek island while village after village has been evacuated.

Emergency services and volunteers have scrambled to extinguish the flames.

We saw some residents chopping down trees in their front gardens in a bid to stop the fires from spreading. A futile action perhaps, but it is the only thing they have control over at the moment.

Even where the fires have been extinguished, the ground smoulders and threatens to reignite at any minute.

The fires have destroyed people’s homes, livelihoods and hundreds of acres of woodland, devastating the wildlife.

Evacuation boats have been continuous, but the queues of cars and people have grown nonetheless.

‘We will die here’

People living in the areas around Edipsos were told it’s no longer safe to stay in their homes yesterday.

One resident queuing in his car to get on an evacuation boat told us: “The fire is enormous. The dust and the wind is so big that we are afraid to just stay.

“Without power, we will be unable to breathe and having no air conditioning, with this big heat, we will die here.”

He added: “I am trying to bring my parents somewhere safe. Today, all the fires became one big monster.”

Another fleeing villager said: “The children were very scared. We can’t stay. It’s very toxic, the atmosphere, unfortunately. But we are lucky because our house is okay. Many people don’t have a house to live in anymore.”

Many on the island are frustrated that help did not come sooner to the area.

After days of criticism that government resources were being focused on the fires in and around Athens, 10 aircraft came to drop water on the island yesterday. British firefighters have also been sent to help with the effort.

But, with Greece experiencing its most intense heatwave in 30 years, there are warnings the crisis is far from over and the fires will soon reach yet more villages.

In neighbouring Turkey, wildfires have swept through swathes of the southern coast for the past 10 days, killing eight people.

Meanwhile, a major UN scientific report was published today saying human activity is changing the climate in unprecedented and sometimes irreversible ways.

The landmark study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that extreme weather events like wildfires, flooding and droughts are increasingly likely in the future.