Ancient Olympia is threatened by wildfires tearing through Greece 

Wildfires are threatening Greece‘s ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, some 6,000 miles away from Tokyo where they are currently being held.

In neighbouring Turkey, a thermal power plant was engulfed by an inferno as wildfires continue to terrorise residents in the two countries.

Pictures showed firefighters battling the Olympia blaze as it raged across a hill near the world-famous archaeological site, where the Olympics were held every four years from 776 B.C. for more than a millennium.

Around 100 firefighters were battling the blaze on Wednesday, aided by three helicopters and two planes, at the site that is found in Elis region, and some 115 miles west of Greece’s capital of Athens.

Olympia was ordered evacuated as a precaution, as were another seven nearby villages. The area was ravaged by major wildfires in 2007 that cost dozens of lives. 

Meanwhile in neighbouring Turkey, rescuers on Thursday began evacuating hundreds of villagers by sea after a deadly wildfire engulfed the outer edges of a thermal power plant storing thousands of tonnes of coal.

An AFP team saw firefighters and police fleeing the 35-year-old Kemerkoy plant in the Aegean province of Mugla as bright balls of orange flame tore through the surrounding hills. 

Pictured: A wildfire approaches the Olympic Academy, foreground, in ancient Olympia, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Pictures showed firefighters battling the blaze as it raged across a hill near the world-famous archaeological site

Pictured: A wildfire approaches the Olympic Academy, foreground, in ancient Olympia, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Pictures showed firefighters battling the blaze as it raged across a hill near the world-famous archaeological site

Pictured: A wildfire approaches the Olympic Academy, foreground, in ancient Olympia, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Pictures showed firefighters battling the blaze as it raged across a hill near the world-famous archaeological site

Pictured: Flames engulf the forest at a mountain near Platanos village, near ancient Olympia in western Greece on August 4, 2021

Pictured: Flames engulf the forest at a mountain near Platanos village, near ancient Olympia in western Greece on August 4, 2021

Pictured: Flames engulf the forest at a mountain near Platanos village, near ancient Olympia in western Greece on August 4, 2021

A helicopter drops water over a mountain during a wildfire in Platanos village, near ancient Olympia, western Greece, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Around 100 firefighters were battling the blaze on Wednesday

A helicopter drops water over a mountain during a wildfire in Platanos village, near ancient Olympia, western Greece, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Around 100 firefighters were battling the blaze on Wednesday

A helicopter drops water over a mountain during a wildfire in Platanos village, near ancient Olympia, western Greece, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Around 100 firefighters were battling the blaze on Wednesday

Flames burn a mountain over Pelopio village, near ancient Olympia, western Greece, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Pictures showed firefighters battling the blaze as it raged across a hill near the world-famous archaeological site where the games started some 2,800 years ago

Flames burn a mountain over Pelopio village, near ancient Olympia, western Greece, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Pictures showed firefighters battling the blaze as it raged across a hill near the world-famous archaeological site where the games started some 2,800 years ago

Flames burn a mountain over Pelopio village, near ancient Olympia, western Greece, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Pictures showed firefighters battling the blaze as it raged across a hill near the world-famous archaeological site where the games started some 2,800 years ago

Pictured: Smoke covers Athens centre and the Acropolis, due to fires burning at the foot of Mount Parnes, 30 kilometres north of Athens. Greece is currently facing over 40 wildfires

Pictured: Smoke covers Athens centre and the Acropolis, due to fires burning at the foot of Mount Parnes, 30 kilometres north of Athens. Greece is currently facing over 40 wildfires

Pictured: Smoke covers Athens centre and the Acropolis, due to fires burning at the foot of Mount Parnes, 30 kilometres north of Athens. Greece is currently facing over 40 wildfires

Greece’s Culture Minister Lina Mendoni is due to go to Olympia to evaluate the risks to the ancient site, but Olympia mayor Giorgos Georgopoulos called for back-up on television. ‘We need more aerial support,’ he said.

The European Union’s crisis management commissioner said it would help, and Cyprus and Sweden were both sending two water planes to help battle the fires. 

Earlier this year, the Olympic torch was lit in Olympia – as it is ahead of every Olympic games – before making a 12,000 mile journey through Japan.

Across the Aegean Sea in Turkey, hundreds of local villages – many clutching small bags of belongings grabbed from their abandoned houses as the evacuation call sounded – began piling onto coastguard speedboats at port of Oren, to escape the vicinity of the thermal power plant.

The regional authority said ‘all explosive chemicals’ and other hazardous material had been removed from the strategic site.

‘But there’s a risk that the fire could spread to the thousands of tonnes of coal inside,’ regional mayor Osman Gurun told reporters.

Video from the scene – one of which was captured by a local mayor – showed the power plant being engulfed by the blaze. 

One of the videos also showed a series of large explosions of white light that cracked the air like lighting coming from the power plant.

Fires burn at the back of the Kemerkoy Thermal Power Plant on August 04, 2021 in Mugla, Turkey. Large wildfires continue to burn across Turkey's southern coast for the seventh day

Fires burn at the back of the Kemerkoy Thermal Power Plant on August 04, 2021 in Mugla, Turkey. Large wildfires continue to burn across Turkey's southern coast for the seventh day

Fires burn at the back of the Kemerkoy Thermal Power Plant on August 04, 2021 in Mugla, Turkey. Large wildfires continue to burn across Turkey’s southern coast for the seventh day

Rescuers on Thursday began evacuating hundreds of villagers by sea after a deadly wildfire engulfed the outer edges of a thermal power plant storing thousands of tonnes of coal

Rescuers on Thursday began evacuating hundreds of villagers by sea after a deadly wildfire engulfed the outer edges of a thermal power plant storing thousands of tonnes of coal

Rescuers on Thursday began evacuating hundreds of villagers by sea after a deadly wildfire engulfed the outer edges of a thermal power plant storing thousands of tonnes of coal

Pictured: A still grab from a video taken by the local mayor as the power plant is engulfed in flames on Wednesday night

Pictured: A still grab from a video taken by the local mayor as the power plant is engulfed in flames on Wednesday night

Pictured: A still grab from a video taken by the local mayor as the power plant is engulfed in flames on Wednesday night

Local officials said hydrogen tanks used to cool the station had been emptied and filled with water as a precaution.

Turkish news reports said most of the coal had been moved from the plant to a storage site five kilometres (three miles) away as a precaution when the blaze first approached the region at the start of the week.

More than 180 wildfires have scorched huge swathes of forest and killed eight people since breaking out along almost the entire perimeter of Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts.

The European Union’s satellite monitoring service said their ‘radiative power’ – a measure of the fires’ intensity – ‘has reached unprecedented values in the entire dataset, which goes back to 2003’.     

At least 150 homes destroyed on Greek Island 

Wednesday also saw at least 150 houses destroyed by a violent blaze that surrounded a monastery and a dozen villages on the Greek island of Evia, just one of some 40 fires raging in the heatwave-hit country.

No deaths or severe injuries have been reported from any of the Greek wildfires. 

On Evia , huge flames leapt up from the forest, visible from afar in what firefighters said was a difficult blaze to control on an island of rolling hills with little visibility.

Three monks from Saint David Monastery had refused to leave, firefighters said, adding that everyone else had been evacuated from the villages nearby.

‘The flames are 30 to 40 metres (100 to 130 feet) high and surrounding the monastery. We’re suffocating due to the smoke,’ one of the monks told the ANA news agency by phone.

Police told AFP they would force the monks to evacuate if their life was in danger.

A Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter drops water onto a forest fire at a mountain near Platanos village, near ancient Olympia in western Greece on August 4, 2021.

A Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter drops water onto a forest fire at a mountain near Platanos village, near ancient Olympia in western Greece on August 4, 2021.

A Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter drops water onto a forest fire at a mountain near Platanos village, near ancient Olympia in western Greece on August 4, 2021.

A forest fire engulfs the forest of a mountain side in the area of Platanos village, near ancient Olympia in western Greece on August 4, 2021

A forest fire engulfs the forest of a mountain side in the area of Platanos village, near ancient Olympia in western Greece on August 4, 2021

A forest fire engulfs the forest of a mountain side in the area of Platanos village, near ancient Olympia in western Greece on August 4, 2021

Pictured: A firefighter reacts as a wildfire burns at Varympompi suburb north of Athens, Greece, August 3, 2021

Pictured: A firefighter reacts as a wildfire burns at Varympompi suburb north of Athens, Greece, August 3, 2021

Pictured: A firefighter reacts as a wildfire burns at Varympompi suburb north of Athens, Greece, August 3, 2021

Locals had gathered on a beach and were due to be evacuated by boat, while 100 firefighters, two helicopters and four water-bombing planes were mobilised.

But Dimitris Vourdanos, deputy governor of the region, said that ‘we are completely unable to intervene by air or by land’.

‘There are two main fronts which are uncontrollable and several other smaller ones,’ he told the Kathimerini newspaper.

The deputy mayor of the small town of Mantoudi said there were ‘at least 150 houses burnt’.

The coast guard said about 85 people were stranded on a beach near the village of Rovies in Evia, adding that private boats were also helping in the evacuation. 

Media reports said three firefighters suffered burns. Several homes were burnt as well as swaths of forest.

Temperatures in parts of Greece reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, in what authorities describe as the worst heat wave since 1987. 

Acrid smoke over Athens

According to deputy minister for civil protection Nikos Hardalias, around 40 blazes are raging in Greece as a severe heatwave hits the country, with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

Evia island is some 200 kilometres (125 miles) away from Athens, where more than 500 firefighters, a dozen water-bombing planes and five helicopters battled another wildfire on the outskirts of the city.

The blaze started on Tuesday in a pine forest at the foot of Mount Parnitha, one of three ranges that surround the Greek capital, sending plumes of dark, acrid smoke over Athens and leaving carcasses of burnt-out houses in its wake.

Around a dozen houses have been destroyed in the flames, and dozens of businesses, bars and holiday accommodation have been severely damaged in the suburb of Varympompi, 30 kilometres (20 miles) northwest of Athens, officials said.

On Wednesday afternoon, the blaze was coming under control, Hardalias said. 

Parthenon temple on Acropolis hill is seen trought smoke from a wildfire north of the Greek capital, on August 4, 2021 in Athens, Greece

Parthenon temple on Acropolis hill is seen trought smoke from a wildfire north of the Greek capital, on August 4, 2021 in Athens, Greece

Parthenon temple on Acropolis hill is seen trought smoke from a wildfire north of the Greek capital, on August 4, 2021 in Athens, Greece

Burned cars after a wildfire in northern Athens, on August 4, 2021 in Athens

Burned cars after a wildfire in northern Athens, on August 4, 2021 in Athens

Burned cars after a wildfire in northern Athens, on August 4, 2021 in Athens

Pictured: A house damaged in the Greek wildfires continues to burn on Wednesday, s in the area of Varympompi in Acharnes, north of Athens, Greece

Pictured: A house damaged in the Greek wildfires continues to burn on Wednesday, s in the area of Varympompi in Acharnes, north of Athens, Greece

Pictured: A house damaged in the Greek wildfires continues to burn on Wednesday, s in the area of Varympompi in Acharnes, north of Athens, Greece

Authorities in Athens have recommended residents stay indoors and wear a mask to protect against the ash and smoke.

The blaze raged very close to a large forested estate and palace that once belonged to Greece’s royal family and is now a public park but Greece’s Culture Ministry said Wednesday that the Tatoi estate was not harmed.

It said artefacts ‘of particular historic and artistic value’ were removed from storage areas in the estate as a precaution on Tuesday and overnight.

Under a major restoration programme, thousands of artefacts from the former palace – including ceremonial carriages, luxury cars, antiquities, paintings and clothes – have been stored for years in sheds on the estate pending their conservation and future exhibition. 

‘Climate threat’

Neighbouring countries are facing similar conditions, fuelling deadly wildfires in Turkey and blazes in Italy and across the Mediterranean region. 

Neighbouring Turkey is suffering its worst fires in at least a decade, claiming the lives of eight people and forcing hundreds to evacuate in southern areas popular with tourists.

Experts have warned that global warming is increasing both the frequency and intensity of such fires.

Pictured: A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop as a wildfire continues to rage at Varympompi suburb north of Athens, Greece, August 4, 2021

Pictured: A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop as a wildfire continues to rage at Varympompi suburb north of Athens, Greece, August 4, 2021

Pictured: A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop as a wildfire continues to rage at Varympompi suburb north of Athens, Greece, August 4, 2021

Pictured: A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop as a wildfire continues to rage at Varympompi suburb north of Athens, Greece, August 4, 2021

Pictured: A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop as a wildfire continues to rage at Varympompi suburb north of Athens, Greece, August 4, 2021

Pictured: A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop as a wildfire continues to rage at Varympompi suburb north of Athens, Greece, August 4, 2021

Hardalias said earlier in the week that ‘we are no longer talking about climate change but about a climate threat’.

Officials in Albania said one person had died of smoke inhalation outside the southern city of Gjirokaster, where wildfires caused hundreds of residents to flee.

An EU disaster response group said assistance, including firefighters and water-dropping planes, were being sent from EU members to Italy, Greece, Albania and North Macedonia.

‘Following the situation with great concern. European solidarity is at work to fight these terrible fires,’ EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen wrote in a tweet.

The EU Atmosphere Monitoring Service said smoke plumes from the region’s wildfires were clearly visible in satellite images, which also showed that the intensity of the wildfires in Turkey was at the highest level since records started in 2003. 

‘No room for politics’

The fires’ strength and scale have exposed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to days of criticism for what some observers say has been his sluggish response to the crisis.

Erdogan had just begun a live television interview about the fires as news broke about the evacuation of the plant.

He acknowledged that the efforts of firefighters to save the station were failing in the face of ‘tremendous wind’ fanning the flames.

But he also lashed out at opposition leaders for trying to score political points by questioning his governments’ readiness and response.

People are evacuated by boats after wildfires reached the Kemerkoy Power Plant, a coal-fueled power plant, in Milas in southwest Turkey, late Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021

People are evacuated by boats after wildfires reached the Kemerkoy Power Plant, a coal-fueled power plant, in Milas in southwest Turkey, late Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021

People are evacuated by boats after wildfires reached the Kemerkoy Power Plant, a coal-fueled power plant, in Milas in southwest Turkey, late Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021

Flames and smoke rises from mountains in Orhaniye village near Marmaris, Turkey, August 4, 2021

Flames and smoke rises from mountains in Orhaniye village near Marmaris, Turkey, August 4, 2021

Flames and smoke rises from mountains in Orhaniye village near Marmaris, Turkey, August 4, 2021

A spanish hydroplane drops water on a fire burning in Koycegiz on August 04, 2021 in Mugla, Turkey

A spanish hydroplane drops water on a fire burning in Koycegiz on August 04, 2021 in Mugla, Turkey

A spanish hydroplane drops water on a fire burning in Koycegiz on August 04, 2021 in Mugla, Turkey

‘When fires break out in America or Russia, (the opposition) stands by the government,’ said Erdogan.

‘Like elsewhere in the world, there has been a big increase in the forest fires in our country. There should be no room for politics here.’

The Turkish government appears to have been caught off guard by the scale and ferocity of the flames.

Its media watchdog on Tuesday warned broadcasters that they might be fined if they continue showing live footage of the blazes or air images of screaming people running for their lives.

Most rolling news channels dropped their coverage of the unfolding disaster until the fire reached the power plant.

Temperature record broken

Erdogan himself has been subjected to days of ridicule on social media after he tossed bags of tea to crowds of people while touring one of the affected regions under heavy police escort.

The opposition has also accused the powerful Turkish leader of being too slow to accept offers of foreign assistance – including from regional rival Greece – and for having failed to properly maintain firefighting planes.

Erdogan’s office blamed the very first blazes near Antalya on arsonists, which pro-government media linked to banned Kurdish militants waging a decades-long insurgency against the state.

But more and more public officials now link them to an extreme heatwave that has dried up reservoirs and created tinderbox conditions across much of Turkey’s south.

Experts have warned that climate change in countries such as Turkey increases both the frequency and intensity of wildfires. The government of neighbouring Greece has directly linked devastating fires there, which covered the capital Athens in smoke on Wednesday, to global warming.

Turkey’s Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said temperatures in the Aegean city of Marmaris had reached an all-time record of 45.5 degrees Celsius (114 degrees Farenheit) this week.

‘We are fighting a very serious war,’ the minister told reporters. ‘I urge everyone to be patient.’

Link hienalouca.com

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