Three people die in Greece as wildfires rage

Raging wildfires in Greece turned deadly Tuesday when a firefighting plane crashed, killing two pilots, and a third person was found dead as relentless heatwaves fuelled flames.

Greece’s fire department said the Canadair aircraft crashed into a ravine close to where the fire My News Bangladeshted on Sunday. Footage on state TV ERT showed the plane clipping a tree before falling nose-first and exploding.

The pilots were members of the Greek air force, and the defence ministry said it had declared a three-day mourning period.

“They lost their lives, saving lives,” the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a statement.

The Greek defence ministry ordered three days of mourning in the armed forces.

“Our support goes to the heroes who, in Greece, France and everywhere else, risk their lives every summer to fight the fires,” the French president Emmanuel Macron posted on Twitter, which is being rebranded as ‘X’.

Another man was found dead and “a DNA test will be needed to confirm if this is a shepherd that was missing since Sunday,” according to Konstantina Dimoglidou, Greek police spokeswoman.

Greece’s firefighters continue to battle wildfires with three major fronts on the tourist islands of Rhodes, Corfu and Evia and several other blazes active throughout the country.

The Civil Protection Ministry has warned of an “extreme danger” of fire in six of the country’s 13 regions on Wednesday.

— Climate change —

Scientists from the World Weather Attribution group said Tuesday the heatwaves that have hit parts of Europe and North America this month would have been almost impossible without human-caused climate change.

“In the face of what the entire planet is facing, especially the Mediterranean which is a climate change hot spot, there is no magical defence mechanism. If there was, we would have implemented it,” Mitsotakis told his cabinet.

Three days before the plane crash, Mitsotakis acknowledged that the aged Canadair CL-215 water bombers used by Greece — a model first produced in the mid-1960s — were “old, difficult (to fly) and prone to malfunction.”

He had vowed to bring in new models available in 2026.

WWF Greece on Tuesday said 35,000 hectares (86,500 acres) of forest and other land had been scorched by fire in the country just in the past week.

Greece is hit by the third heat wave in a row for July, and the heat is expected to reach 46 degrees Celsius (114.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of the country, according to the national weather forecaster EMY.

Vassilis Kikilias, Greece’s civil protection minister, said crews had battled over 500 fires around the country for 12 straight days.

More evacuations were ordered in several parts of Corfu and Rhodes on Tuesday, as flames destroyed swathes of land and dozens of properties.

Authorities evacuated tens of thousands of people on the two popular tourist destinations, with many frightened tourists scrambling to get home on evacuation flights.

More than 260 firefighters were still battling flames for an eighth consecutive day on Rhodes, supported by nine planes and two helicopters.

A source at Rhodes airport operators Fraport said the situation had normalised, with traffic levels consistent with the height of the summer season.

More than 5,000 people had flown home on more than 40 emergency flights from Sunday to Tuesday, the official told AFP.

Volunteers had come to the aid of foreign tourists in the north of Rhodes where nearly 200 people are still camped out at a school after being evacuated from the fires on Saturday.

“I can’t believe they are so nice, they gave so much in every way,” said 69-year-old British tourist Christine Moody, who was spending her first vacation in Greece when the fires hit. “I am very moved,” she said.

– ‘Protect our home’ –

The severe heatwave in Greece has also been reflected across much of southern Europe and Northern Africa.

In Algeria at least 34 people have died as wildfires tore through residential areas, forcing mass evacuations.

Witnesses described fleeing walls of flames that raged “like a blowtorch”, and TV footage showed charred cars, burnt-out shops and smouldering scrubland.

In Italy, firefighters spent the night battling wildfires in Sicily, one of which approached so close to Palermo airport that it shut down for several hours Tuesday morning.

Italy’s Civil Protection Department reported “extensive fires” across the south.

In the north, a 16-year-old girl on a camping trip was among two people killed by falling trees during violent storms.

“We are experiencing in Italy one of the most complicated days in recent decades — rainstorms, tornadoes and giant hail in the north, and scorching heat and devastating fires in the centre and south,” said Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci.

In Albania’s capital Tirana, temperatures surpassed 40C on Tuesday, spurring hospitals to open a string of emergency care centres to treat heat-related illnesses.

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