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Thousands flee Greek island Evia by boat as ‘horror movie’ wildfires rage

A woman reacts Aug. 8 as a wildfire approaches her house in the village of Gouves on the Greek island of Evia. (Konstantinos Tsakalidis/Bloomberg News)
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More than 2,000 people on the Greek island of Evia were forced to evacuate by boat over the weekend as raging wildfires continued to spread, wiping out homes, reducing once-picturesque landscapes to ashes and destroying entire villages.

Photos showed devastated residents standing under amber skies amid searing heat as they waited to be rescued from the island, which is Greece’s largest by area and population after Crete.

Elderly members of the community were carried to safety, as other locals walked along the roadside to find help.

Residents of the Greek island Evia fled their homes on Aug. 8 as wildfires burned uncontrollably for a sixth day. (Video: Reuters)

Greek officials said that at least 570 firefighters were working to bring the fires under control, which were triggered by the country’s worst heat in 30 years — a consequence of a warming planet.

The scenes from Greece come as the United Nations released a landmark report Monday that found humans have pushed the climate into “unprecedented” territory, with worse climate impacts still to come.

The vast study, from more than 200 authors, states that there is no longer any scientific doubt that humans are fueling climate change.

Last month was the world’s worst July for wildfires since records began in 2003, according to scientists, with wildfires burning in Turkey, Italy, Spain and Lebanon. The United States also recorded punishing temperatures, with heat in Montana reaching more than 20 degrees above normal last month.

Wildfires rage across Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain and Lebanon

Northern Ireland also broke a record, recording its highest temperature to date of 88.5 degrees as officials raised an amber warning of extreme heat.

Speaking at an emergency briefing Sunday, Greece’s deputy civil protection minister, Nikos Hardalias, said aircraft attempting to drop water onto the flames were experiencing difficulties due to poor visibility created by the rising smoke.

It’s “like a horror movie,” a 38-year-old pregnant evacuee said, according to Reuters. “But now this is not the movie, this is real life, this is the horror that we have lived with for the last week.”

Over the weekend, British officials confirmed that firefighters were being deployed to help battle the fires in Greece. “When I visited my Greek counterparts earlier this week I saw the devastating effect the fires are having,” British Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted Saturday.

“We are sending a team of experienced firefighters to support Greek firefighters currently battling the huge blazes,” she wrote, adding: “The UK stands with you.”

The European Union has deployed more than a dozen planes, three helicopters, 250 other vehicles and about 1,300 first responders to fight blazes across Southern Europe, with most of the resources going to Greece.

With aid coming from at least 12 E.U. member countries, the bloc’s leaders have said it ranks among the continent’s largest-ever fire missions, underscoring the need to “prioritize crisis response also at a European level.”

“We are mobilizing one of Europe’s biggest ever common firefighting operations as multiple fires affect several countries simultaneously,” Janez Lenarcic, the E.U. commissioner for crisis management, said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with all those affected and with the first responders who are risking their lives to battle the fires.”

On Sunday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis publicly thanked all countries that had sent resources and assistance.

“We thank you for standing by Greece during these trying times,” he said.

“Every day you want to cry,” one local, Nicholas Valasos, told Sky News, adding that he had ensured elderly family members were taken care of and admitting he was finding it difficult to leave the island.

“The worst thing is being woken up at 3:30 in the morning by the police, telling you to evacuate, to leave everything behind and to run away,” he said.

On Monday, Greek newspaper Kathimerini estimated that the extent of the disaster spanned more than half a million acres.

“Thousands of buildings had suffered incalculable damage,” the publication reported, adding that many locals and visitors to the island had climbed aboard flotillas during the night in a desperate bid to escape the flames, searing heat and thick smoke.

Reis Thebault contributed to this report.

Read more:

What you need to know about how wildfires spread

Analysis: The climate news is about to get a lot worse

Perspective: We keep fleeing wildfires. Soon, there may be nowhere left that’s safe.