Greece’s electricity grid on brink of collapse as heatwave fuels record wildfires

The Greek electricity grid is facing collapse in the face of a heatwave that has sparked deadly forest fires across the Eastern Mediterranean, the country’s prime minister has warned.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday appealed to locals and tourists to limit their electricity use to the early afternoon and night time as soaring temperatures, low humidity and high winds continued to stoke blazes in several countries.  

"We are facing the worst heatwave since 1987," he said  "Everything humanly possible has been done to secure the country’s power supply. But we are also asking consumers to help us," he added.

Greek firefighters on Monday finally extinguished a three-day blaze that destroyed nearly 3,000 hectares of pine and olive groves near the Peloponnese city of Patras. A fire on the island of Rhodes continued to burn but had been brought under control.

But forecasters warned more fires could be expected as temperatures were set to hit 45C.

Firefighters battle forest fires in the Manavgat district of Antalya, southern Turkey, on August 2

Credit: Suleyman Elcin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In neighbouring Turkey, firefighters and local volunteers with little more than buckets of water struggled for a sixth day to contain fires that have killed at least eight people and forced the evacuation of thousands from resort towns on the country’s southern coast.

Ahmet Aras, the mayor of the resort town of Bodrum, issued a direct appeal for water bombers on Monday, warning that without aerial intervention, the centre of the city would be under threat.

“Please hear our voice, we need urgent help to defend the last remaining forests in Bodrum, to protect life,” he tweeted in a video message.

The European Union on Monday dispatched three water bombers – one from Croatia and two from Spain – to Turkey to help fight the fires after Ankara belatedly accepted an offer of assistance Brussels made last week.

They will join firefighting aircraft from Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Ukraine that arrived late last week.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has faced criticism on social media over the revelation that Turkey does not have any water bombers of its own and for ignoring earlier offers of help from the EU and Greece.

Amy Hutchinson, a teacher from Aberdeen who works in the town of Içmeler, near Marmaris, said the landscape looked like a "a war zone" when the fires forced her out of her home on Thursday.

Locals evacuate as fire advances on the village of Cokertme in Bodrum, Turkey

Credit: Emre Tazegul/AP

"We are completely surrounded by greenery here in Içmeler and Marmaris. The fires started and it’s just not stopping," she told BBC Scotland.

"It just happened so quickly – within 10 minutes we were completely surrounded by red fire. I’ve never been so scared."

"We left five minutes before they told everyone to evacuate because we could see it was getting very bad. It was completely around us. It looked like a war zone. The sky was completely red. The ash was like snow falling on to the ground."

Nikos Hardalias, the Greek deputy civil protection minister, said fires were the result of climate change and warned: "We are no longer talking about climate change but about a climate threat."

There were 1,584 wildfires across Greece in July alone, compared to 953 in 2019.

Andrianos Gourbatsis, a former lieutenant with the Greek  Fire Brigade, said poor preparation by authorities and a failure to catch and punish arsonists would likely see the situation worsen in the coming month.

"The state is unprepared", he said. "Climate change enables fires but it doesn’t set them. Fires are anthropogenic".

Fire and smoke fill the sky around the village of Cokertme late on Sunday night

Credit: Emre Tazegul/AP

Italy’s fire service recorded over 800 fires over the weekend as temperatures soared to 40C.

Five people, including a five-year-old girl, ended up in hospital after choking on smoke when a forest fire spread to palm trees fringing the beaches in Pescara, a city in central Italy, on Sunday afternoon.

It came a day after 150 people trapped by wildfires had to be rescued by rubber dinghies from a beach in Sicily.

The local préfectures in the Var, Alpes-Maritimes and Bouches-du-Rhône départements in the south of France warned people to stay away from forests on Monday due to a "very severe risk" of fires caused by the combination of dry and windy weather.

In Spain, firefighters and water bombing aircraft managed to bring under control a new wildfire that broke out on Saturday near the San Juan reservoir, around 70 kilometres east of Madrid.

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