ATHENS — After 10 days of battling blazes across the country, firefighters in Greece managed to contain some of them on Thursday, although a thunderstorm was a mixed blessing: the rain doused some of the smoldering fires but lightning sparked new ones.
Vasilis Vathrakoyiannis, a spokesman for the fire service, said in the morning that things were much better in Evia, the country’s second largest island, which has borne the brunt of the fires, and Arcadia is a region in the south of the country. “But the lightning created new small fronts,” Mr. Vathrakoyiannis said, adding that additional firefighting forces were dispatched to tackle the new fires. In the afternoon, however, some fires rekindled in Arcadia.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday that radical changes were required for the prevention of and responding to “mega” forest fires of the type that have raged in many parts of Europe this summer amid record-breaking heat waves.
“The climate crisis is here,” Mr. Mitsotakis said at a news conference, adding that “everything needs to change,” citing energy policy, state services, and the way people treat the environment.
The problem does not only affect Greece, he said, citing rising temperatures and destruction from fires in Algeria, Sicily and Turkey. “This is not just a Greek phenomenon. It is Mediterranean, it is global,” he said, adding that Mediterranean countries should work together against this “common crisis.”
Responding to criticism by residents of Evia and elsewhere that the early evacuation of villages was to blame for the extent of the destruction in Greece — estimated at more than 230,000 acres of forestland — Mr. Mitsotakis said the tactic was aimed at saving lives. On Evia and in other fire-hit parts of Greece, many residents defied government appeals to evacuate, staying put to fight the flames with water hoses and buckets.
“We managed to protect thousands of people, but we lost forests and property,” he said, referring to “the greatest ecological disaster of the last several decades.”
He added: “We did everything possible. But clearly, that was not enough.”
Mr. Mitsotakis also dismissed suggestions his government delayed appealing for foreign support in firefighting, saying the request was made “within hours.” And he pledged to increase funding for forest fire protection and to create a specialized unit for tackling forest fires.
He said claims by some residents that forestland on Evia was burned intentionally to clear the way for wind farms were “completely groundless.” But he underlined his longstanding support for a transition to green energy as a way of reducing carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
“Wind farms aren’t an enemy. They are an ally in an effort to make this transition,” he said, adding that efforts were underway to phase out lignite-powered electricity plants in Greece and shift to greener energy alternatives.
“The negative experience from this assault of nature must be turned into a positive force for change.”