Greece struggles to contain Europe’s largest wildfire on record

A partially burned forest near Avantas, Greece, on Monday. (Alexandros Avramidis/Reuters)
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Wildfires raging across northeast Greece for 10 straight days — even as hundreds of firefighters battling to contain them — are the largest ever recorded within the European Union, according to a European Commission spokesman.

Ongoing fires have scorched 310 square miles, in the largest blaze recorded since the European Union began keeping track in 2000, Balazs Ujvari, a spokesman for the bloc’s executive branch, said in a statement.

The area burned is more than four times larger than Washington, D.C.

The cause of the fires remains under investigation.

Greece is parched after a summer of record-setting heat and attendant blazes across Europe and North Africa, which scientists say have been exacerbated by human-induced climate change.

The E.U. has launched its largest aerial firefighting operation to date, Ujvari said Tuesday, and was sending 11 firefighting planes, one helicopter and 400 firefighters to assist Greece.

The operation leaves the E.U. with just over half its stock of firefighting planes, according to Reuters.

The wildfires are tearing through Greece’s Evros region and its capital city, Alexandroupolis. Fires in the Dadia National Park, a bird sanctuary near the border with Turkey, are “still out of control,” Greece’s fire service told AFP on Tuesday.

The Mediterranean fires offer lessons — and warnings — for Europe

Greece continues to battle a massive wildfire that left a swath of destruction near the country's border with Turkey. (Video: Reuters)

Last month, wildfires tore through Greece’s Rhodes Island. So far in 2023, fires have destroyed more square miles of Greece than in any year on record other than 2022, according to data from the European Commission.

18 migrants killed in wildfires raging across Greece, officials say

At least 21 people have died in the fires in the past week, according to Greek authorities.

Among them are 19 people, believed by fire officials to be migrants or refugees, whose charred remains were found Aug. 22 in the Dadia forest. The area is part of a known migrant path into Europe.