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Thousands in Greece and Turkey flee wildfires that display the "reality of climate change"

Thousands of people fled wildfires burning out of control in Greece and Turkey on Friday, as a protracted heat wave turned forests into tinderboxes and flames threatened populated areas, electricity installations and historic sites.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis addressed the flames in a televised address Thursday night, saying the wildfires display "the reality of climate change." 

On the Greek island of Evia, the coast guard mounted a major operation to evacuate hundreds of people by sea. "We're talking about the apocalypse, I don't know how to describe it," Sotiris Danikas, head of the coast guard in the town of Aidipsos on Evia, told state broadcaster ERT.

Dozens of other villages and neighborhoods were emptied in the southern Peloponnese region and just north of the Greek capital as blazes raced through pine forests.  

The worst heatwave in 30 years

Forest fires in Greece
Firefighters try to extinguish a forest fire in a wooded area north of Athens on August 6, 2021. Angelos Tzortzinis/picture alliance via Getty Images

Fires have raged in many parts of Greece as the country has been baked by a prolonged heat wave that sent temperatures soaring to 113 degrees Fahrenheit. 
 
In neighboring Turkey, wildfires described as the worst in decades have swept through swaths of the southern coast for the past 10 days, killing eight people.
 
More than 1,000 firefighters and nearly 20 aircraft are now battling major fires across Greece. Several European countries are sending or already sent firefighters, planes, helicopters and vehicles to help.
 
Although temperatures dipped below 104 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time in nearly 10 days in many parts of Greece, strong winds were predicted for Friday afternoon for much of the country, which could further hamper firefighting efforts.
 
"We are going through the 10th day of a major heat wave affecting our entire country, the worst heat wave in terms of intensity and duration of the last 30 years," Fire Service Brig. Gen. Aristotelis Papadopoulos said.

At least 36,000 evacuated in Turkey

Forest fires in Greece
Firefighters try to extinguish a forest fire north of Athens on August 6, 2021. Since the early hours of the morning, strong westerly winds continued to fuel numerous fires. Angelos Tzortzinis/picture alliance via Getty Images

In Turkey, authorities evacuated six more neighborhoods near the town of Milas, in Mugla province, Friday as a wildfire fanned by winds burned some 3 miles from a power plant. At least 36,000 people were evacuated to safety in Mugla province alone, officials said.
 
Meanwhile, several excavators cleared strips of land to form firebreaks in a bid to stop flames from reaching the Yenikoy plant, the second such facility to be threatened by wildfires in the region.

On Wednesday, a fire reached the compound of the coal-fueled Kemerkoy power plant, forcing nearby residents to flee in navy vessels and cars. It was contained on Thursday after raging for some 11 hours and officials said the plant's main units were not damaged. 

Wildfires near the tourism resort of Marmaris, also in Mugla province, were largely contained by late Thursday, officials said, while at least two fires were still burning in Antalya province, another beach holiday destination.

Fires disrupting COVID-19 vaccinations

The fire halted traffic on the country's main highway connecting Athens to northern Greece Thursday and damaged electricity installations, leading the power distribution company to warn of the possibility of rolling power cuts.
 
In the Drosopigi area, resident Giorgos Hatzispiros surveyed the damage to his house Friday morning, the first time he was seeing it after being ordered to evacuate the previous afternoon. Only the charred walls of the single-story home remained, along with his children's bicycles, somehow unscathed in a storeroom. Inside, smoke rose from a still-smoldering bookcase.

"Nothing is left," Hatzispiros said. He urged his mother to leave, to spare her the sight of their destroyed home.
 
In southern Greece, nearly 60 villages and settlements were evacuated Thursday and early Friday. In addition to Evia, fires were burning in multiple locations in the southern Peloponnese region where a blaze was stopped before reaching monuments at Olympia, birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games.
 
A summer palace outside Athens once used by the former Greek royal family was also spared.

The fires have also disrupted COVID-19 vaccinations. The Health Ministry announced the suspension of vaccinations at centers in areas affected by the fires, saying appointments could be rescheduled when conditions allow. 

In 2018, more than 100 people died when a fast-moving forest fire engulfed a seaside settlement east of Athens. Some of them drowned trying to escape by sea from the choking smoke and flames after becoming trapped on a beach.

The CBSN documentary "Bring Your Own Brigade" captures the horror and heroism of the deadliest week of wildfires in California history and explores the causes and solutions of a global crisis that is quite literally burning our world to the ground. "Bring Your Own Brigade" is in theaters now. You can stream it on the CBS News app or Paramount+ on August 20.

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