In heat emergency, Greece adds checks for fires, power cuts

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A waitress serves refreshments at a beach bar of Lagonissi village, a few miles southwest of Athens, on Thursday, July 29, 2021. One of the most severe heat waves recorded since 1980s scorched southeast Europe on Thursday, sending residents flocking to the coast, public fountains and air-conditioned locations to find some relief, with temperatures rose above 40 C (104 F) in parts of Greece and across much of the region. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS (AP) — Greek authorities ordered additional fire patrols and infrastructure maintenance inspections Friday as the country grappled with a heat wave fed by hot air from Africa that is expected to last more than a week.

The emergency measures will also include efforts to create more air-conditioned areas open to the public in cities around Greece and at refugee camps, though the efforts are complicated by COVID-19 pandemic-related limits on how many people can gather together.

Temperatures in Greece and nearby countries in southeast Europe are expected to climb to 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 F) in many cities and towns on Monday and ease only later next week.

Officials said the additional inspections were aimed at preventing water and power outages, with the increased use of air conditioning testing the country’s energy capacity.

Sporadic outages were reported in parts of greater Athens on Friday, but some had been planned by the grid operator for maintenance work.

“This is a dangerous weather phenomenon. We have been saying it from the start of the week,” said Theodoris Kolydas, director of Greece’s National Meteorological Service.

“The conditions will be stubborn and only subside gradually… very hot air masses from the shores of Africa are heading toward our region.”

Workers most exposed to the heat, including those in construction, manual labor, catering and elsewhere, will be given longer breaks next week between midday and 4:00 p.m. Employers were also instructed by the Labor Ministry to provide water and air-conditioned rest areas.

As the temperatures rose, three separate wildfires damaged homes in southern Greece this week, outside Athens and the western city of Patras.

Civil protection chief Nikos Hardalias said climate change was raising the fire risk.

“On average (in mid-summer), we are dealing with about 50 fires per day, and many of those are under difficult conditions. That number is clearly increasing each year,” Hardalias told private Antenna television.

“It’s a phenomenon that’s gradually getting worse. Climate change is now a climate threat. I say it everywhere I go. We all have a responsibility to protect the country,” he said.

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