Greece wildfires: Eighteen bodies found in Greek forest

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A nurse looks on as the fire draws closer to the grounds of the hospital in Alexandroupolis
By Kostas Koukoumakas near Athens & Paul Kirby in London
BBC News

Dozens of patients have been moved from a hospital in north-eastern Greece as wildfires burn out of control for a fourth day near Alexandroupolis.

The flames reached the grounds of the university hospital and among those moved were new-born babies and intensive care patients.

Many of those evacuated were taken to a ferry in the nearby port.

Patients hooked up to oxygen bottles lay on mattresses on decks of the ship converted into hospital wards.

Tents were also erected on the shore.

Alexandroupolis, a major port close to Greece’s north-eastern border with Turkey, is one of a number of Greek regions tackling wildfires, whipped up by high winds and temperatures which are set to reach 39C (102F) on Tuesday.

Fires are raging elsewhere – on the island of Evia and in Boeotia in central Greece, where several villages have been evacuated.

At least one person has already died because of the fires ravaging villages close to Alexandroupolis.

Greek officials ordered a fleet of ambulances and buses to take some 115 patients away from the university hospital on the north-east fringe of the city.

Reports said the flames entered the grounds of the hospital while the operation was taking place and the hospital was enveloped in a thick cloud of smoke and ash. Explosions in the hospital area were blamed on oxygen bottles exploding.

A fiery, red glow was visible throughout the night on the fringe of Alexandroupolis and satellite images showed several regions of Greece covered in thick smoke.

A number of those evacuated were intensive care patients

While some of the patients were moved to other hospitals in the city, as many as 90 were taken to a ferry, the Adamantios Korais, which has been requisitioned to look after intensive care and new-born babies.

During the night residents in eight nearby villages were told to leave their homes and head for safety in Alexandroupolis.

Fires have also been burning dozens of kilometres to the north-west of the city, in Rhodope and further west along the coast in Kavala.

West of the capital, Athens, three warehouses became engulfed in flames in an industrial area in Aspropyrgos and close to the Attica Highway the sky darkened with acrid smoke.

Two Albanian workers told the BBC that if helicopters had arrived in time they would have been able to put the fire out.

Around midday on Tuesday a second large fire broke out on the opposite side of the highway in the village of Fyli. Half an hour later residents received a mobile phone message from the 112 emergency number to evacuate the area.

France, Cyprus and Romania have sent reinforcements to help Greek firefighters.

Summer wildfires are common in Greece but scientists have linked the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including heatwaves, to climate change.

Last month, thousands of people were forced to flee fires on the Greek island of Rhodes after wildfires broke out there and in other parts of the country.

“Greece already had by far its worst July since 2008 in terms of wildfires,” the EU’s Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, said on Monday.

“The burnt area is bigger and the fires are more intense and more violent, burning more area than before.”

A spokesperson for the Greek fire service, Ioannis Artophios, said they were faced with “extreme phenomena” and that everyone needed to “adapt to this difficult situation.”

Greece is one of several European countries currently at extreme risk of wildfires, according to the EU’s climate monitoring service, Copernicus.

Fire crews have been battling a blaze on the Spanish island of Tenerife for almost a week, but the authorities there believe the worst is now behind them.

France endured its hottest ever day on Monday after the mid-August holiday, according to weather service Météo-France.

Temperatures on Monday soared as high as 42.4C in the Drôme area of south-eastern France but the record refers to Monday’s daily average temperature of 26.63C, recorded in 30 weather stations across France.

In Switzerland, the high temperatures have pushed the “zero-degree isotherm” – the height where temperatures fall below freezing point – to a record altitude. MeteoSwiss said the limit had now increased to 5,298m (17,381ft).

The point is shifting steadily higher, mainly because of global warming induced by humans, the Swiss met office says. The increased height of the zero-degree isotherm has been accelerating since the 1970s, especially in spring and summer, it says.

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