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Cypriot mission begins fighting Athens fires

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Α Cypriot mission comprising personnel from the Cyprus Fire Service, Civil Defence and medical staff arrived on Friday in Athens to assist efforts in combat wildfires in Mount Parnitha.

In statements to the Cyprus News Agency, Fire Service press officer Andreas Kettis said the Cypriot mission was received by a Greek Fire Service liaison officer and is heading to operate on two different fronts in Parnitha.

An emergency medical response team is among the 31-strong mission.

The 31-member mission was set up after the coordinated efforts of state agencies, particularly the Ministry of Justice.

The mission consists of 13 individuals from the Cyprus Fire Service, 13 from Civil Defense, and five from the Ambulance Service.

In a social media post, the Fire Service Chief said: “We wish them to be safe, and we hope that their support for our colleagues in Greece, who have been fighting the wildfires for days now, will be as constructive as possible”.

Greek firefighters backed by aircraft battled a blaze spreading outside Athens for several days, one of hundreds ravaging a country where wildfires have already killed 20 people this week.

Hundreds have fled their homes since fires erupted in northern Greece on Saturday, fanned by heat and high winds in the summer’s second major outbreak.

Greek Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said 355 wildfires had erupted since last week.

About 20 km north of Athens, more than 200 firefighters backed by volunteers – alongside 65 vehicles and 15 aircraft, some sent from Sweden and Germany – battled a blaze that began early on Tuesday near Fyli, a village in the foothills of Mount Parnitha and spread towards the town of Menidi.

The capital has been smothered in smoke and ash since the blaze broke out.

The fire has left a trail of destruction, burning homes and cars in Fyli and forcing residents to flee on foot, some covering their faces with their clothes because of the smoke.

Volunteers loaded sheep in the trunks of cars to save them.

WORST SUMMER

Rescuers discovered 18 burned bodies on Tuesday, believed to be migrants, in an area near Dadia forest, a common route for people from the Middle East and Asia trying to enter the European Union.

In the nearby port city of Alexandroupolis, dozens of hospital patients, some on stretchers, others with IV drips attached to their hands, were evacuated onto a ferry.

A satellite image broadcast on state television showed smoke from the Evros fires had drifted across the country to the Ionian islands in the northwest, not far from Italy.

Summer wildfires are common in Greece, but this year, they have been made worse by unusually hot, dry and windy weather, which scientists link to climate change.

“This summer is the worst since meteorological data began to be collected,” Kikilias said.

In July, tens of thousands of foreign tourists were evacuated from the island of Rhodes, where a fire burned for a week, burning hotels and resorts.

Mount Parnitha, a protected wildlife area widely known as the “lungs” of Athens, is normally a respite for city dwellers, especially as the heat of Greek summers has tipped to dangerous extremes.

But on Thursday, with the air acrid with the smell of burned wood, residents and conservationists alike lamented the potential loss of one of the few green spaces left near the capital.

They accused the authorities of failing to protect a precious forestland home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, including red deer and wolves.

The Greek authorities insisted that they had done everything possible to protect the forest and the surrounding residential areas.

On Thursday, Janez Lenarcic, the crisis management commissioner of the European Union, which has sent firefighters and aircraft to help Greece, said they were “the largest wildfires on record the EU has faced.”