21 firefighters leave UK to help fight Greek wildfires

Firefighters in action last Friday in the Athens outskirts, just 20km from the capital’s centre. Photo credit: MARIOS LOLOS

TWENTY-ONE firefighters from the UK left yesterday evening for Greece to assist firefighters out there, in an international effort to tackle the raging wildfires.

Tony Brown group manager at Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service spoke from the airport on his way out to Greece.

Brown said: ‘We have got a team of 21 firefighters there to assist. They are all professional full-time firefighters.

‘As part of the response for Merseyside and the UK, part of the (INSARAG) International Search and Rescue Advisory Group, I have personally travelled to a number of locations around the world to assist during disasters. Not wildfires before, but collapsed buildings, earthquakes and such.

‘Our wildfire experts within the team who have been deployed throughout Europe and trained within the European mechanism have seen these type of fires before and they are expert at dealing with the tactics and the strategy.’

For over a week huge and intense wildfires have been raging and destroying forests, homes and properties in many regions of southern Greece. It is estimated that over 100,000 hectares (ha) of forests and agricultural land have been razed. Many hundreds of homes, hotels and other buildings along with cars have been utterly gutted.

A volunteer firefighter was killed last Friday. Many thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate their homes and villages amongst chaotic scenes with flames of 20-30 metres high approaching.

The unprecedented fires in terms of volume and intensity, have been most destructive in the Evia region of central Greece, in the northern outskirts of Athens and in the western area of the Peloponnese around the site of ancient Olympia.

Last Saturday the government spokesperson N.Khardalias announced in his daily television broadcasts, that over 30 planes and helicopters and over 1,000 firefighters have been sent to Greece by several European and Arab countries to fight the fires along with the 5,000 Greek firefighters, Greek army units, Greek police, and several thousands of volunteers.

Such numbers show the huge extent of the fires.

Greek science institutions had warned in July that a ‘bubble’ of very high temperatures, of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (over 40 degrees Celsius), would descend on Greece.

Wildfires broke out and it became clear on Monday 2 August, that these were of a huge scale.

Wildfires are quite usual every summer in Greece and in all Mediterranean countries. Across the Aegean Sea, in Turkey, fires are raging in the south-western regions popular with tourists and thousands of people have been evacuated.

Following three days of uncontrolled burning in several areas in Greece, including the northern outskirts of Athens just 20km away form the city centre of the capital, the Greek government gave up the fight to contain the fires and ordered the complete evacuation of all areas threatened by the fires. Homes, agriculture, roads and infrastructure were left to their fate.

The current unprecedented destruction by fires in Greece stems directly from the extreme and barbaric economic austerity programme of the Mitsotakis government, a programme imposed by the EU so that Greek capitalism, and European banks, remain afloat.

Just before the wildfires erupted in such a destructive way, the Greek Vouli on Friday 30 July voted a government Bill to accept yet another Austerity Accord dictated by the EU so as to receive more loans.