Canadair water bomber from Southern France. Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons License.
18 Jul 2023

Wildfire season 2023 in Europe has started for real: Greece, Switzerland, Spain: 4000 evacuated on La Palma


As southern and southeastern Europe is suffering through a record breaking heatwave, a new  "mega fire" has started in Greece, and another one in Switzerland. Spain continues to struggle with fires which started unusually early this year. 



A very dry winter has reportedly created dangerous conditions ripe for wildfires in southern Europe. The Greek wildfires which started on Monday spread fast due to strong winds fanning the fires. 

More than 1300 people and also many animals have been evacuated from the fires near Athens. Reportedly, 81 individual fires were burning in the area on Monday and Tuesday. 


According to the BBC, the most severe wildfire in Greece is currently in the Dervenochoria region north of Athens, where smoke can be seen on satellite images.

Other fires continue to rage in towns of Loutraki - a coastal town near the city of Corinth - and in Kouvaras, south of Athens.

Firefighting crews in Switzerland are battling a wildfire close to the village of Bitsch, which is located in the  canton of Valais. Authorities said it started on Monday afternoon and spread "explosively" overnight.


Greek controversy around slow response and not enough firefighters

In the industrial city of Mandra, west of Athens, residents have told the BBC that damage from fires could have been avoided if emergency crews had arrived earlier.

The Greek fire service said their  "main concern is to protect lives, save belongings and the forests" -  claiming they were doing their best it could to fight wildfires in very poor weather conditions. 

Some residents have directed  criticism at the government, claiming there are not enough firefighters to respond to the number of fires. 

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has faced these criticisms before, apologising in August 2021 for failures in tackling the wildfires that summer..



Original article posted July 18:

Thousands of people have been evacuated in recent days, as firefighters continue to battle wildfires near Athens in Greece, on La Palma in the Canary Islands and on a mountainside in Switzerland. 


GREECE: According to Reuters,  two wildfires , fanned by strong winds, were burning uncontrolled through coastal towns near Athens on Monday forcing residents to flee their homes.

A second wildfire prompted the evacuation of residents from a rehabilitation centre  close to the seaside resort of Loutraki, about 50 miles west of Athens, a local mayor told Greek television.

A third fire broke out in the afternoon and was burning forest about 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of Athens, in the area of Dervenochoria.

135 firefighters, 50 fire engines, 40 soldiers and 13 aircraft were deployed.  Police shut down part of a highway and closed down train services through the area.


Wildfire front extended to industrial town of Mandra on Tuesday

On Tuesday, a wildfire were affecting a forest and towns northwest of Athens for a second day. More residents were forced  to flee their homes as firefighting efforts were focused on stopping the wildfires to  reach a nearby area with oil refineries.

The active fire front extended over 8 km (5 miles), officials said, damaging homes around the town of Mandra, which was covered in dense smoke.

"We are living a nightmare," Mandra mayor Christos Stathis told Open TV. "Houses and properties are on fire."

Mandra  is a largely industrial area, and in 2017, the town was struck by flash floods that killed 24 people.


More EU help coming: France and Italy send firefighting planes to Greece

The European Union is sending Greece additional support to cope with wildfires burning on multiple fronts around Athens, reports ABCNews.com. Italy and France are each sending two firefighting planes, and they will join around 30 Romanian firefighters already stationed in Greece as part of a seasonal EU fire program, European officials said Tuesday.



4000 evacuated from small island 

Over the weekend, firefighters were trying to contain a wildfire which forced the evacuation of at least 4,000 people on the small Spanish island of La Palma, authorities said on Sunday. La Palma is one of the smaller islands in the Canarian archipelago off the west coast of Africa. (Population of about 84,000).

Some residents in the village of Puntagorda - where the fire started on Saturday - initially refused to leave their homes, and authorities were pleaing to the residents to take responsibility for their lives and leave, reports Canarian Weekly. 

Resources from both land and air were ferried and flown in. The high temperatures cooled down somewhat on Sunday and higher humidity helped control the fire.It had been around 40 C on La Palma earlier in the week. 

4600 hectares of land were burned over the weekend on La Palma. The fire is now under control, reports Diario de Canarias.

Any extra firefighting resources will need to be be flown or ferried over, and firefighting conditions there requires special considerations. Evacuation can also be a different mater there than on the mainland since there isn´t much space on the island itself.  The main island of the Eastern Canary Island, Gran Canaria, has similar concerns with limited resources and space,  also being located very far from backup teams.  


Red alerts for high temperatures in the southeast

The EU's emergency response coordination centre has issued red alerts for high temperatures for most of Italy, northeastern Spain, Croatia, Serbia, southern Bosnia,  Herzegovina, and Montenegro.

Britain’s Foreign Office has updated its travel advice for Spain and Greece, with holidaymakers urged to sign up for emergency alerts and warned of travel disruption as temperatures soar, reports The Independent. 

ain a wildfire which burned out of control and forced the evacuation of at least 4,000 people on the Spanish island of La Palma, authorities said on Sunday.


Photo Credit: (Cover photo above) A Canadair water bomber from Southern France. Wikipedia Commons License.