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Red alerts issued as wildfires in Greece force thousands to flee, blazes continue in Italy, Spain, Switzerland

Red alerts issued as wildfires in Greece force thousands to flee, blazes continue in Italy, Spain, Switzerland
Flames reach upwards along the edge of a wildfire as seen from a Canadian Forces helicopter surveying the area near Mistissini in Quebec on 12 June 2023. (Photo: Cpl Marc-Andre Leclerc / Canadian Forces / Via Reuters / File Photo)

Some of Europe’s holiday hotspots are also currently some of the hottest places on Earth. The EU has sent out heat red alerts for a number of countries including Italy, Spain and Serbia, while the European Space Agency has warned that Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Poland could face extreme conditions, with temperatures going way above 40°C.

European meteorologists predict that temperatures could pass the record of 48.8°C experienced in Sicily in 2021 as wildfires force thousands to flee in Greece and tourists faint in the sweltering heatwave. The UK Foreign Office has warned its citizens – who frequently hop over to Europe for holidays, especially Greece and Spain – to monitor weather advisories and take precautions against the heat.

Parts of Sicily and Spain are expected to reach temperatures of 45°C, possibly 48°C or higher. The European Union has issued red alerts for Italy, northeastern Spain, Croatia, Serbia, Germany and Poland. On Monday, Italy issued red alerts for 16 cities, including Rome, Florence and Bologna. The heatwave is expected to last through next week.

Greece is getting help in fighting its wildfires, with the EU sending firefighting planes. Italy and France are reportedly sending two planes each. A firefighter in Greece is reported to have told the BBC on Tuesday that “we are fighting fires all over Greece, not just in Athens”.

The firefighting planes and their teams “will join about 30 Romanian firefighters already stationed in Greece”. Homes have been damaged and evacuations around Athens continued late into Tuesday. Temperatures are expected to continue to climb, with highs in the mid-40s forecast for the latter part of this week.

In Switzerland about 200 firefighters are trying to contain a blaze that started on Monday. The fire is raging near the Italian border and a few hundred villagers have been evacuated.

Italy recorded at least one heat-related death last week when a 44-year-old man, who had been painting a zebra crossing, passed out in the heat and later died in hospital.

In 2022, during the European summer, about 62,000 people are thought to have died due to heat-related complications in Europe, according to researchers who had looked into mortality due to heat.



The current heatwave in the Mediterranean is partly due to the Charon anticyclone weather system. Named after the mythical ferryman of the dead, the system is moving across Europe from North Africa.

On Friday, 14 July, the young woman who is probably the world’s most famous climate activist, Greta Thunberg, keeping up her longstanding #FridaysForFuture protest, posted a photograph of herself on Twitter, holding a sign saying “Is this the sign you were looking for?”, referencing the global heat and fires.

This week, World Health Organization (WHO) director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri P Kluge, issued a statement warning that people in the region need to take precautions against the heat.

The WHO advises via its “#KeepCool campaign:

  • Keep out of the heat. Avoid going out and doing strenuous activity during the hottest time of day. Stay in the shade, do not leave children or animals in parked vehicles, and if necessary and possible, spend at least two to three hours of the day in a cool place;
  • Keep your home cool. Use the night air to cool down your home. Reduce the heat load indoors during the day by using blinds or shutters and turning off as many electrical devices as possible; and
  • Keep your body cool and hydrated – drink water regularly while avoiding sugary, alcoholic or caffeinated drinks.

It also advises anyone who is dizzy, weak or intensely thirsty, or has a headache, to “seek help”.

While the EU sends firefighting planes to help with the wildfires in Greece, another South African firefighting team – Mzansi three – left for Canada on Tuesday. Most of the wildfires in Canada are nowhere near being under control, with the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) reporting 577 fires out of control as at 18 July.

At the weekend, a US firefighter in Canada told CNN that the fight in Canada was now about saving people as the wildfires keep burning:

“In the states, this would be one of the biggest fires ever to occur,” he said. He went on to call it a “gigafire”, saying: “At this point we’re just trying to secure the edge and protect the community.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Smoke from Canada’s wildfire spreading around the globe, heightening concern over air quality, human health

A gigafire is one that has burned more than a million acres. As of today, the CIFFC is reporting a total of 10.9ha burnt, or close to 27 million acres (almost the entire land mass of the Western Cape – 31.9 million acres). DM

Absa OBP

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  • Ritchie Morris says:

    Extract: A gigafire is one that has burned more than a million acres. As of today, the CIFFC is reporting a total of 10.9ha burnt, or close to 27 million acres (almost the entire land mass of the Western Cape – 31.9 million acres).
    The hectares figure is incorrect. 27 million acres is 10,926,512.34 hectares.

  • Rory Short says:

    Until humanity accepts that we are an integral part of the environment and that what we do effects the environment, either negatively or positively, out of ignorance we will inevitably destroy the habitability of our planet.

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