ATHENS — Greece was grappling with one of its hottest weeks on record on Tuesday as an intense heat wave swept through much of Southern Europe and fueled major forest fires.
The National Observatory of Athens weather service on Monday registered the highest temperature ever officially recorded in the country — 46.3 degrees Celsius, or 115.3 degrees Fahrenheit — in the central Greek region of Phthiotis.
Temperatures were forecast to climb to 113 degrees Fahrenheit in Athens on Tuesday and top 115 degrees in parts of central Greece, according to the country’s National Meteorological Service.
“We are facing the worst heat wave since 1987,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Monday, noting that the authorities were doing “everything humanly possible” to secure an adequate electricity supply. He appealed to people to limit their use of electricity in the early afternoon and at night to ensure that the grid holds up.
While scientists have yet to draw a firm connection between this barrage of stifling temperatures and global warming, it fits an overall trend. Heat waves around the world are occurring more often and with higher intensity as the climate changes because of greenhouse gas emissions.
Research has shown that for major heat waves across Europe in recent summers, climate change has been a significant worsening factor.
Greece’s meteorological service said the current heat wave was one of the worst of the past 40 years. It is forecast to end on Friday, after 11 days.
More than 1,000 people died in a 10-day heat wave that gripped Greece in 1987 and saw temperatures climb to more than 111 degrees Fahrenheit in Athens, the capital. The highest temperature on record for Athens was 112.6 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded in 2007, according to the observatory, which has records stretching back more than 160 years.
This week, officials appealed to vulnerable members of the public, particularly older people and pregnant women, to avoid leaving their homes. The government also opened cooling centers for homeless people.
The Culture Ministry said that all archaeological sites would remain closed from noon to 5 p.m. through Friday. Museums remained open, however, and footage of long lines of people waiting outside the capital’s Acropolis museum was aired on Greek television.
There were similar lines at the port of Piraeus, where passengers awaited ferries for the islands, pulling down their face masks to drink from water bottles or use hand-held fans.
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Athens’ central Syntagma Square, typically buzzing with crowds, was relatively quiet on Tuesday as tourists huddled under the shade of trees or dipped their hands into the water fountain to cool off.
The heat wave and an accompanying drought have fueled several wildfires in Greece and other parts of Southern Europe, including Croatia, Italy and Turkey.
Greek firefighters were on Tuesday battling a new forest fire that broke out in the early afternoon at the foot of Mount Parnitha, north of Athens, prompting hundreds of people to flee their homes. A village and children’s camp were evacuated and a section of the nearby highway was closed to traffic.
The worst blazes this week were in Turkey, where firefighters were battling a sixth day of wildfires along the country’s southern coast that forced tens of thousands from their homes. The fires were encroaching on residential areas and threatened a power plant.
At least eight people have died, and homes and vast tracts of forestland have been destroyed. Strong winds and a dry atmosphere have allowed the fires to rapidly expand.
“I’m struggling to breathe, the weather is that hot,” Gulcin Hacievliyagil Ayce, a Turkish television reporter, told Haber Turk TV on Tuesday while reporting in the city of Marmaris.
In a video posted to the Twitter account of the city’s mayor, Mehmet Oktay, he stood in front of a hillside of charred trees and pleaded for more aerial firefighting support. “Although we have been demanding more air support since the beginning, today there is only one helicopter, no planes,” he said.
Flames and plumes of billowing gray smoke rose behind white villas in the town of Milas in television footage on Tuesday, and officials warned of the risk that the flames could reach a nearby power plant. “We are at a critical point,” Muhammet Tokat, the town’s mayor, said in a post on Twitter overnight.
The fires in Turkey led to the evacuation of thousands from seaside resorts and villages, and the European Union sent water-dropping aircraft to assist in the firefighting effort.
Turkey’s central government has been widely denounced over its response to the disaster, including hiring planes from Russia. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that the country’s own planes are not capable of stopping the blazes.
Sukru Durmus, the head of the agriculture and forest workers’ union, said that the extreme weather conditions had laid the ground for the wildfires, but that misconduct by Turkey’s government and a lack of precautionary measures had worsened the situation.
In Greece, the largest fires were in the southern Peloponnese peninsula and on the island of Rhodes in the southern Aegean Sea, opposite the Turkish coast. On Monday, the authorities declared a state of emergency in parts of Rhodes after a fire that broke out on Sunday destroyed hundreds of acres of forestland and prompted the evacuation of villages, a military base and a popular nature reserve.
Greece’s fire service said that dozens of fires were being reported daily, and officials noted that there had been 1,584 in July, compared with 953 in July 2019.
“We are no longer talking about climate change, but a climate threat,” Nikos Hardalias, the country’s Deputy Civil Protection Minister, told Greek television on Sunday.