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Fires and fury in Greece
Sensemaker audio

Fires and fury in Greece

Fires and fury in Greece

Fires have ripped across the island of Evia, in Greece. And when help finally came it was too little, too late.


Transcript

Claudia Williams: Hi, I’m Claudia and this is Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, when help came to the island of Evia, it was too little, too late.

***

“I am very angry. Most people here are very angry.”

Vasilikia, a resident on the island of Evia

That is Vasilikia.

“I lost my home, lost my home. I lost my place, I lost my birth place, nothing will be the same…”

Vasilikia, a resident on the island of Evia

She’s on a ferry surrounded by people and it’s nighttime.

But in the background, behind Vasilikia, there’s this huge red and orange glaze. It fills the sky.

And the ferry that Vasilikia is standing on is moving away from the light. It’s evacuating her and hundreds of others off a Greek island called Evia.  

Why?

Because Evia is on fire. 

“It’s a disaster, you can see it right? It’s huge… our villages are destroyed, there is nothing left from our homes, our properties… nothing, nothing…”

Vasilikia, a resident on the island of Evia

Greece is currently experiencing its worst heatwave in 30 years and the island of Evia has been particularly badly hit. There’s been little blue sky for days, just a big black cloud. It looks apocalyptic. 

And across the whole of Greece, there are more than 150 fires burning. Six areas are on high alert and at least two people have died so far. 

The EU has deployed dozens of planes, helicopters and vehicles, and first responders from all over Europe have headed to Greece to help. 

So why is Vasilikia so angry? 

***

Summer in Greece is known for being hot.

“Well we’ve had this extremely unusual heat which started in June which usually doesn’t, it never happens in June…”

Lenio Myrivili, Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Centre

But the heat arrived earlier than expected this year.

“… usually we have extreme heat in July and mostly August so this year it started in June in early June and it’s been going on and on and on with temperatures above in high 30s and last week in the low 40s celsius.”

Lenio Myrivili, Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Centre

And when you combine those soaring temperatures with a bit of hot wind, wildfires start.

But when the fire did start to spread on the island of Evia, no one was there to help residents like Vasilikia.

“We were all alone, three days now we were all alone. Nobody helped. No one.”

Vasilikia, a resident on the island of Evia

They felt that they had been left to fend for themselves as the fire approached and their hoses and buckets of water seemed pretty futile in their efforts to extinguish the flames.

The Greek authorities claimed the conditions were difficult for the water-dropping planes and helicopters because of limited visibility from all the smoke. 

But in reality, they were overwhelmed. The wildfires have pushed Greece’s firefighting capabilities to the limit. There simply aren’t enough resources. 

“Emergency crews say shifting winds are hampering firefighting operations. And flames have returned to areas that thought the worst was over. “

DW News

But Greece isn’t the only place that’s burning this summer. 

***

[News clips of wildfires across Europe and America]

Italy, the Balkans, Siberia, Turkey and California are all experiencing wildfires too.

And earlier this week, the United Nations released a climate change report which was described by their Secretary-General as “code red for humanity”.

“The alarm bells are deafening… the United Nations today issuing an urgent call for action in its most comprehensive look yet at our global climate crisis.”

CNN

The report said that humans have pushed the climate into “unprecedented” territory and unless immediate and large-scale action is taken to reduce emissions, the average global temperature is likely to reach or exceed the 1.5 degree Celsius warming threshold within 20 years. 

For the island of Evia at least, climate change is already a very real reality. 


The Prime Minister Kyrikos Mitsotakis has promised that forests destroyed by the fires will be restored and that climate defences will be built up. But for Vasilikia, it’s too little too late.

“People need help, they lost their homes, they lost their jobs. They need help. The government has huge responsibilities.” 

Vasilikia, a resident on the island of Evia

Vasilikia is just one of more than 2,000 people who were forced to leave their homes on the island of Evia. Once it’s safe enough to return home, there will be little left to go back to. 

Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.


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