Greece Tames Wildfire Near Athens, Arson Suspected

A firefighting helicopter drops water during a fire that broke out in Varis - Koropiou, eastern Attica, Greece, 19 June 2024. (EPA)
A firefighting helicopter drops water during a fire that broke out in Varis - Koropiou, eastern Attica, Greece, 19 June 2024. (EPA)
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Greece Tames Wildfire Near Athens, Arson Suspected

A firefighting helicopter drops water during a fire that broke out in Varis - Koropiou, eastern Attica, Greece, 19 June 2024. (EPA)
A firefighting helicopter drops water during a fire that broke out in Varis - Koropiou, eastern Attica, Greece, 19 June 2024. (EPA)

Greek firefighters appeared close to containing a wildfire near Athens on Wednesday that forced dozens to flee their homes, and authorities now believe the fire was the result of arson as well as hot, dry conditions.

Traffic was suspended along a main highway connecting Koropi to Athens' southern suburbs, about 30 km (19 miles) south of Athens.

There were no reports of deaths or injuries. A fire service official said the intensity of the blaze had eased but it was not out, noting that high winds carry sparks that can quickly open new fronts.

Civil protection minister Vassilis Kikilias said officials have verified indications that the fire near Athens was the result of arson as well as extreme weather conditions.

He said there is a video and photos of the suspected arsonist and authorities will publish them.

In Koropi, a storage facility and at least one home were burned, and flames crept into a boat dry dock and across fields of dry grass and olive trees. Authorities evacuated two nearby villages.

"I saw a lot of smoke behind our building, it was very close to us. It went around the hill and passed in front of us," local resident Anastasia Papadopoulou told Reuters.

Volunteer and professional firefighters dragged hoses over blackened fields in 35 degree Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) heat.

Much of the area has had no rain for weeks, leaving large areas bone dry. Six firefighting planes, 16 helicopters, dozens of fire engines and more than 150 firefighters were dispatched to the scene, the fire service said.

Several hundred firefighters were deployed to battle more than 60 forest fires across the country, with 16 fires still active, including a big one in Peloponnese. High winds and hot temperatures will extend the risk into Thursday.

"Since noon we had a new fire breaking out almost every 10 minutes," Kikilias said.

After forest fires last year forced 19,000 people to flee the island of Rhodes and killed 20 in the northern mainland, Greece has scaled up its preparations this year by hiring more staff and increasing training.

Wildfires are common in the Mediterranean nation, but they have become more devastating as summers have become hotter and drier, which scientists relate to climate change.



UN Demands Action on Extreme Heat as World Registers Warmest Day

 A child cools off nearby sprinklers at Retiro Park during the second day of the heatwave, in Madrid, Spain July 25, 2024. (Reuters)
A child cools off nearby sprinklers at Retiro Park during the second day of the heatwave, in Madrid, Spain July 25, 2024. (Reuters)
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UN Demands Action on Extreme Heat as World Registers Warmest Day

 A child cools off nearby sprinklers at Retiro Park during the second day of the heatwave, in Madrid, Spain July 25, 2024. (Reuters)
A child cools off nearby sprinklers at Retiro Park during the second day of the heatwave, in Madrid, Spain July 25, 2024. (Reuters)

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on Thursday for countries to address the urgency of the extreme heat epidemic, fueled by climate change - days after the world registered its hottest day on record.

"Extreme heat is the new abnormal," Guterres said. "The world must rise to the challenge of rising temperatures," he said.

Climate change is making heatwaves more frequent, more intense and longer lasting across the world.

Already this year, scorching conditions have killed 1,300 hajj pilgrims, closed schools for some 80 million children in Africa and Asia, and led to a spike in hospitalizations and deaths in the Sahel.

Every month since June 2023 has now ranked as the planet's warmest since records began in 1940, compared with the corresponding month in previous years, according the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service.

The UN called on governments to not only tamp down fossil fuel emissions - the driver of climate change - but to bolster protections for the most vulnerable, including the elderly, pregnant women and children, and step up safeguards for workers.

Over 70 percent of the global workforce - 2.4 billion people - are now at high risk of extreme heat, according to a report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) published Thursday.

In Africa, nearly 93 percent of the workforce is exposed to excessive heat, and 84 percent of the Arab States' workforce, the ILO report found.

Excessive heat has been blamed for causing almost 23 million workplace injuries worldwide, and some 19,000 deaths annually.

"We need measures to protect workers, grounded in human rights," Guterres said.

He also called for governments to "heatproof" their economies, critical sectors such as healthcare, and the built environment.

Cities are warming at twice the worldwide average rate due to rapid urbanization and the urban heat island effect.

By 2050, some researchers estimate a 700 percent global increase in the number of urban poor living in extreme heat conditions.

This is the first time the UN has put out a global call for action on extreme heat.

"We need a policy signal and this is it," said Kathy Baughman Mcleod, CEO of Climate Resilience for All, a nonprofit focused on extreme heat.

"It's recognition of how big it is and how urgent it is. It's also recognition that everybody doesn't feel in the same way and pay the same price for it."