Wildfires declared ‘ecological catastrophe’ as Italy battles 500 more blazes

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Thursday, August 12, said the country is facing its ‘greatest ecological catastrophe in decades’ as wildfires continue to devastate southern Europe.

The fires broke out as the country roasted during the most intense and protracted heatwave experienced in around 30 years. Hundreds of wildfires broke out across the country, stretching Greece’s firefighting capabilities to the limit and leading the government to appeal for help from abroad. Hundreds of firefighters, along with planes, helicopters and vehicles, arrived from 24 European and Middle Eastern countries to assist.

“We managed to save lives, but we lost forests and property,” Mitsotakis said, describing the wildfires as “the greatest ecological catastrophe of the last few decades.”

Mitsotakis, speaking during a news conference in Athens, his first since the fires broke out, said authorities had faced around 100 active blazes each day. By Thursday, the situation was much improved, with most large wildfires on the wane.

But the prime minister warned the danger of more blazes was still present.

“We are in the middle of August and it’s clear we will have difficult days ahead of us” until the main season during which fires break out is over.

“The climate crisis — I’d like to use this term, and not climate change — the climate crisis is here,” he said, adding he was ready to make the “bold changes” needed to tackle the changing climate.

“This is a common crisis for all of us,” he said, noting that climate change is a global issue.

The largest fire broke out on Greece’s second-largest island of Evia on Aug. 3 and was still smoldering on Thursday, after having destroyed most of the island’s north.

More than 50,900 hectares were damaged in northern Evia, according to mapping from the European Union’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service.

Italian firefighters have been battling 500 wildfires overnight with the searing heat due to continue for several days, caused by the anticyclone dubbed Lucifer.