Two pilots have died after an aircraft fighting wildfires in Greece crashed – as crews battled more than 50 blazes across the country.
The crash happened over the town of Karystos on the island of Evia near Athens – and was broadcast on state television.
Footage showed the low-flying aircraft disappearing into a canyon before a fireball was seen moments later.
The minister of national defence, Nikos Dendias, confirmed that both pilots, aged 34 and 27, had died in the crash.
“The loss of the lives of Air Force Officers and firefighting aircraft operators, in the line of duty and while attempting to protect the lives and property of citizens, as well as the environment of our country, is deeply saddening, he said in a statement.”
“Our thoughts are with their families and colleagues, to whom we extend our most sincere condolences.”
Mr Dendias also announced a three-day mourning period within the armed forces, while Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis cancelled a planned visit to Cyprus for Wednesday.
On another day of wildfires:
- 34 people were killed in wildfires in Algeria – including 10 soldiers;
- In Italy, two people were reportedly found dead in a burnt-out home in Scilly;
- Firefighters also battled blazes in France and Turkey;
- UK airlines continued their efforts to bring British tourists home from wildfire-hit Rhodes.
New evacuation warning issued
It comes as thousands of Britons have been flown back from Rhodes – with new estimates suggesting 10% of land on the Greek island has been burned by wildfires.
Additional flights bringing stranded holidaymakers landed in the UK overnight, and more are expected to arrive throughout the day.
As many as 10,000 Britons were estimated to be on the island, a favourite tourist destination, the Foreign Office said.
Holidaymakers who have returned have told of “traumatic” evacuations as their hotels were surrounded by flames.
Scores of people were forced to spend the weekend sleeping rough on beaches, sun loungers, or on the streets as wildfires raged.
Temperatures have risen above 40C (104F) in parts of Greece, and on Rhodes – where a blaze is continuing to move inland, touching mountainous forest areas including part of a nature reserve.
A new evacuation warning has been issued for the inland village of Vati, and people there are being urged to move to Lindos.
Greece’s fire department says it has battled 53 wildfires across the country in the last 24 hours, including on the islands of Rhodes and Corfu, as well as “multiple flare-ups” on Evia and in the region of Achaea, to the west of Athens.
Local officers and arson investigators are probing the cause of the fires.
In Corfu, people in three areas have been told to evacuate from what the deputy mayor of north Corfu, Haris Yiotis, describes as the “fire of the century”.
However, he says not a single life has been lost and not a single inhabited building has been destroyed by the fire – though some abandoned buildings have been affected.
Desperate residents with wet towels around their necks have been using shovels to beat back the flames approaching their homes – with firefighting planes and helicopters resuming water drops at first light.
Sea evacuations have also been taking place at a beach in Corfu to transport individuals fleeing wildfires there.
‘We are at war’
Greek PM Mr Mitsotakis has said “we are at war” and completely focused on tackling the wildfires.
He is holding crisis talks with his ministers on Tuesday and has warned difficult days lie ahead, with conditions possibly set to improve on Thursday.
Large swathes of the country are at the highest risk level for fires tomorrow.
Mr Mitsotakis warned: “I will state the obvious – in the fact of what the entire planet is facing, especially the Mediterranean which is a climate hotspot, there is no magical defence mechanism. If there was, we would have implemented it.”
Today, scientists have published an assessment that states human-induced climate change has played an “absolutely overwhelming” role in the extreme heatwaves seen worldwide in recent weeks.
Prosecutors on Rhodes are now investigating what has caused the fires, and examining the preparedness and response of the authorities.
The EU has sent 500 firefighters, 100 vehicles and seven planes from 10 member states – with Turkey, Israel and Egypt also offering support.
Vassilis Kikilias, Greece’s climate minister, said crews are “fighting non-stop on dozens of forest fire fronts” – with 12 consecutive days of heat and strong winds.
“The Greek Fire Service has battled more than 500 fires – more than 50 a day,” he added.
It comes as Housing Secretary Michael Gove told Sky News on Tuesday that he plans to holiday on the Greek island of Evia in just over a week, and insisted the region is safe for holidaymakers despite fire concerns.
Some 77 firefighters were battling scattered outbreaks in Evia on Monday.
EasyJet repatriated 421 people back to the UK on two flights from Rhodes on Monday, with a third on Tuesday. This is in addition to nine scheduled flights to the island that are also taking place.
Jet2 had four repatriation flights scheduled for Monday evening – to Manchester, Bradford and Birmingham – with a total of 787 seats.
Fifty scheduled flights are going to take holidaymakers back from Rhodes this week, but each aircraft will leave the UK empty after all outbound flights and holidays were cancelled until Sunday.
Labour has suggested that the government should “rethink” the advice it is giving for Britons who have booked a trip to Rhodes.
Fires force airport to close in Italy
In Italy, two elderly people were reportedly found dead in a home burnt by a wildfire on the island of Sicily, according to Italian media.
The fire shut down Palermo airport for a few hours and disrupted local road and rail traffic.
Regional officials say 55 fires are active on Sicily, adding to its travel misery at the peak of the tourist season.
On some parts of the island, temperatures rose to 47.6C (117.7F) on Monday – close to a record European high of 48.8C (120F) recorded there two years ago.
Italy has put 16 cities on red alert because of the high temperatures.
In Puglia some 2,000 tourists were evacuated from three hotels in Vieste as flames driven by winds got perilously close.
Meanwhile, an overnight storm tore off roofs and uprooted trees in Milan, blocking roads and disrupting transport.
A Delta flight that took off from Milan and was bound for New York was forced to land in Rome after its nose and fuselage were severely damaged by a hailstorm.
And two women were killed on Monday and Tuesday in the northern Monza and Brescia provinces after being crushed by falling trees.
In southern France, several dozen firefighters battled a wildfire in the Cagnes-sur-Mer and Villeneuve-Loubet areas, to the west of Nice.
The Bouches-du-Rhone region, which includes the city of Marseille, has been placed under a “red alert”, with authorities seeing a “very high risk” of wildfires.
In Turkey, authorities evacuated a dozen homes and a hospital as a precaution on Tuesday as a wildfire raged through a forest area near the resort of Kemer, in the Antalya region.
Deadly blazes in Algeria
In Algeria, wildfires have killed 34 people – including 10 soldiers trying to get the flames under control in the face of high winds and searing summer temperatures.
Bejaia, part of the Berber-speaking Kabyle region east of Algiers, was the hardest-hit area, with 23 deaths since Sunday, the local Soummam Radio reported on Tuesday.
Another 197 people have been injured, while at least 1,500 people have been evacuated.
Fires have also forced the closure of two border crossings with neighbouring Tunisia, where temperatures have hit 49C (120.2F) in some cities.
At least 37 people were killed last August when wildfires raged near Algeria’s northern border with Tunisia.