The Greek Island Is Europe’s New Epicenter of Calamity Summer



EVIA, Greece – Amid crooked cages and scorched trees, Harilaos Tertipis emerged from his ruined stables hauling the burnt corpses of his sheep – burned, like so many, in the wildfire that raged throughout Greece.

As the survivors of his flock gathered on a hill beside the road below, the bells around their necks spread and their legs sang, he said that if he had stayed with his animals instead to hurry home to protect his family and home, “I don’t want ’em here anymore.”

As of Wednesday, fires around the northern part of Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, had destroyed more than 120,000 hectares of pine forests, damaged homes and displaced hundreds of people. They brought aid from more than 20 countries and were declared “a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions” by the Greek prime minister.

The fires, sparked by a record-breaking heat wave that held temperatures of up to 46 degrees Celsius, or 115 degrees Fahrenheit, caused political discrimination, economic disaster and scenes of biblical destruction.

But it seems less a random act of God than another inevitable phase of Europe’s extreme weather brought on by man -made climate change that scientists have now decided is irreversible.

Europe has always considered itself a climate leader, last month pledging to reduce emissions by 55 per cent over the next decade and called it “a make-or-break moment” for the planet “before us. reach irreversible tipping points. “

But a catastrophe of disasters this summer has left many wondering if here’s the tipping point, urging that climate change is no longer a distant threat for future generations, but an immediate plague affecting in rich and poor countries.

Beyond the fires that have occurred in the American West, or in Turkey and Algeria, almost no corner of Europe has been untouched by a tumultuous array of disasters, fires, floods or heat.

The sore temperatures ended wildfires in Sweden, Finland and Norway. Once a millennium floods in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands killed nearly 196 people. Areas in Italy were hit by more than 118 degrees this week, while parts of the country were differently burned by fire, plagued by ice or headed by floods.

“It’s not just Greece,” said Vasilis Vathrakoyiannis, a spokesman for the Greek fire service. “This is the whole ecosystem of Europe.”

But the changing center of the natural disaster has now fallen on Evia, a thick wooded island northeast of Athens, formerly known for its beekeeping and resin producers, of olives and beach resorts. , and is now a capital of the consequences of a warming planet.

This week, as firefighters scrambled to put out the re-burning blaze and helicopters fell sea water to drive the licking fires, acres of burned hills and farms fell to the bottom. of white ash, as if powdered by snow.

I passed winding roads full of fallen trees and electric wires. The smoke went down, like a thick fog. The tangled trees were still warming and the beekeepers ’nest boxes seemed to be burnt tables finally abandoned on the empty farm. Miles away from the fire, the smoke still left a quick taste in my mouth. Ash drifted around the cafes where the waitresses were constantly watered by tables and the sun cast a dense haze with an orange hue.

“We lived in paradise,” Babis Apostolou, 59, said with tears in her eyes as she looked at the fiery earth surrounding her village, Vasilika, at the northern tip of Evia. “Now is hell.”

This week, fire has taken over new ground. In the southern Peloponnese, where fires killed more than 60 people in 2007, a long stretch of fire exploded in forests and houses, prompting the evacuation of more than 20 more villages. But many Greeks refused to leave their homes.

When police told Argyro Kypraiou, 59, in the Evia village of Kyrinthos to evacuate on Saturday, he remained. As the trees on the road blazed, he resisted the air-conditioned barrage of burning pine cones and a hosed fire in the garden. When the water ran out he beat the fire on the branches.

“If we left, the houses would be on fire,” he said across the smoky cliff. A truck passed by and the driver leaned out the window, yelling at him that there was another farm fire behind his house. “We keep killing,” he shouted back. “We have no other job.”

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece’s prime minister, has called in recent days “among the poorest for our country in decades” and promised to compensate the poor and reforest the land. Residents of Evia’s north chamber complained that the government failed to fly the aircraft that landed on them fast enough or it waited too long to seek help from the European Union.

Greece’s top prosecutor has ordered an investigation into whether criminal activity may have sparked the fire, possibly to clear land for development. Many here blame the mysterious arsonists for starting the fire.

“It’s arson,” Mr. Apostolou said. “I heard they want to put in wind turbines.”

Mr. Tertipis said, “I hope the man who put out this fire will suffer like my animals.”

But it’s also possible that pointing the finger at the firefighters came from a sense of helplessness and the need to blame anyone – anyone – for a crisis that some have somehow acknowledged was everyone’s fault.

“We all need to make changes,” said Irini Anastasiou, 28, who expects fires to continue to occur around the world as the planet warms. He looked from the front desk of his now empty hotel in Pefki, one of the hardest right towns, and saw a not -so -cold wall of fog over the sea.

“Usually, you see clearly in the mountains,” he said. “Now you see nothing.”

Evia residents did what they could. In the town of Prokopi, volunteer firefighters have established a base at the Forest Museum (“focused on man and his relationship to the forest”).

Hundreds of boxes packed with supplies for the lost log cabin clutter. They brimmed crackers and cereal and granola bars. Soft stacks of child and adult diapers reached out the windows. The boxes contain medications and burn cream, aloe vera, Flamigel, hydrogel and Flogo Instant Calm Spray, under a sign promoting TWIG, the Transnational Woodland Industries Group.

An international team of emergency workers ran out of the cabin. Some of the 108 firefighters sent by Romania are working with Greek Army officials and local authorities to put out the blaze. Some volunteers came out with gauze chains to cut down trees while the returnees leaned against a wall of bottled water and rum rumate on what went wrong.

Ioannis Kanellopoulos, 62, blames heavy snowfall during the winter for damaging too many branches and creating excessive wildfires on the forest floor. But the intense heat did not help.

“When the fire broke out it was 113 degrees in the shade,” he said.

He said the former benchmark for deterioration in the area was a fire in 1977. This fire was extinguished here, he said, and guaranteed that it would not go unnoticed for many years.

“There’s nothing left to burn,” he said.

“It’s not California,” added his friend Spiros Michail, 52.

With nothing left to burn is the usual restraint on the island. The punchline to the terrible natural joke was played on them.

But this is not true. Many more will burn.

At night the fire returned, appearing on the dark hills in the distance like Chinese lanterns. The fire burned on the sides of the roads like ghostly campsites.

Stylianos Totos, a forest ranger, stands with a cane as he looks at binoculars on a hill near Ellinika.

“How can we get into that one,” he called to his companion in a truck carrying more than a ton of water. He worried that the wind would change direction from east to west and feed the fire with fresh pines. Just before 9pm Tuesday night, one of the small fires broke out, igniting all the barren ground and twisted branches around it. “Andrea,” he shouted. “Call it that.”

But any help, and any change in behavior around the world, is too late for Mr. Tertipis and his flock.

Mr. Tertipis, 60, who lost his mother and sustained permanent scarring to his left arm in the 1977 fire, rushed back home toward his stables before Sunday began. The fire consumed half his flock, but left a lush green pine and faint field untouched only a few dozen yards away.

“That’s how it is, in five minutes, you live or die,” he said, adding, “the fire is always changing.”

For two days he could not answer the phone or do anything but cry. He then began to clean up, going through debris in galoshes, dragging load after load, using a sled styled from a hook and a broken refrigerator door.

She has taken care of animals all her life, and she says she has no choice but to continue, no matter how well the weather around her is taken care of.

“Things may have changed,” he said with a shrug. “What are you going to do? Just give up?”

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Evia.


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