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Greek wildfires trigger blasts at ammunition dump

Wildfires whipped on by strong winds triggered a series of major explosions Thursday at an air force ammunition dump in central Greece, but no injuries were reported as the site had been safely evacuated in advance, officials said.

Fires have raged across parts of Greece during three successive Mediterranean heat waves in the past two weeks, leaving five people dead, including two firefighting pilots, and triggering a huge evacuation of tourists over the weekend on the island of Rhodes.

A blaze in the region of Volos, in central Greece, reached an ammunition dump outside a major military air base in Nea Anchialos, triggering a series of large explosions that shattered windows on houses in a surrounding area.

The air force said the site, about 6 kilometres (about 4 miles) north of the airbase, had been evacuated well in advance and no injuries were reported. The fire service also said no injuries had been reported in nearby villages, which had been ordered evacuated as a precaution.

State ERT television showed village residents and visitors heading for a small local port to be evacuated by sea, while others were preparing to leave by car.

The air base is some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the city of Volos, where the blasts were loudly heard.

The wildfire burned on two fronts and forced a section of Greece’s busiest highway to close for several hours, while national rail services passing through the area were delayed.

Water-dropping helicopters and a ground crew scrambled early Thursday to a blaze in Kifissia, just north of Athens, which was quickly put out.

Greek firefighters also battled flames on Rhodes for a tenth successive day, while flare-ups were reported on the island of Evia.

The World Meteorological Organization, a UN body, and a European Union climate change service reported Thursday that temperatures in the month of July set a new global record.

As Southern Europe fights extreme heat and wildfires, parts of central Europe have been hit with winter conditions. Subfreezing temperatures, frost and snow have been reported in the Tatra Mountains, which run through Poland and Slovakia.

In Italy, firefighters battled brush fires in the southern mainland regions of Calabria and Puglia, as well as the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, helped by temperatures dropping some 13 degrees Celsius (55 F) into the low- and mid-30s C (high 80s F). Sicily remained the focal point, with fires continuing to burn near the capital, Palermo, as seven aircraft were engaged to douse the flames.

“Without doubt, we can see that all across the Mediterranean the climate crisis is here and it’s affecting us all more strongly than perhaps even scientists had warned us about,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday during a meeting with the country’s president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

Wildfire carbon emissions for July in Greece were the highest by a huge margin – totaling over 1 metric megatons and doubling the previous record – since record-keeping started 20 years ago, according to the EU agency that analyses satellite data, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

“Unfortunately, it is not all that surprising, given the extreme conditions in the region,” said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the agency. “The observed intensity and estimated emissions show how unusual the scale of the fires has been for July relative to the last 20 years of data.”

An EU disaster response agency announced that it was sending two more firefighting planes, provided by France, to Greece.

In Athens, senior members of the armed forces paid tribute to the two pilots killed when a firefighting plane crashed this week, at a ceremony held at the Defence Ministry.

Cpt Christos Moulas and Lt Pericles Stephanidis died during a low-altitude water drop on the island of Evia.

Defence Minister Nikos Dendias said the operators had shown “self-denial in the line of duty.”

“Today, Greece is in mourning. Their memories will live on,” Dendias said.

Funeral services for the two airmen were to be held in northern Greece later Thursday and on the island of Crete on Friday.

Source: AP