Greece wildfires: Thousands living in evacuation centres as flames ravage homes

When I met Panagiotis Kratimenos, he was watching his village burn on the news.

His eyes glued to the television, he was alone in the sprawling front room of an evacuation centre.

“The smoke completely surrounded us and we couldn’t breathe,” he tells me. “Then they brought us here.”

Mr Kratimenos has lived in Livadaki in southwest Greece since the day he was born.

It’s his 97th summer and by far the hottest of his lifetime.

“I was born there and I will never live anywhere else,” he tells me. But the wildfires are now a very real worry.

In the last week, wildfires have ravaged Greece, with thousands evacuated. Last week, a volunteer firefighter was killed and on Sunday, British firefighters were sent to help tackle the devastating wildfires.

Twenty-one villages were evacuated overnight in this area of the Peloponnese region. The former retirement home opened as a refuge on Friday and it’s full already.

When word spread we were there, one woman came to find us to say it was British firefighters who saved her home.

“I saw you and said bless you – you came here to help Greece,” said Stavroula Tselika.

“But still a huge catastrophe has happened here. In our village 28 houses burned – we counted one by one. Almost all the olive groves burned. Sheep burned. Goats burned.”

Her shock is clear as she talks about her friends who’ve lost their homes. She’s among thousands in Greece displaced, and distressed about what the future holds.

There are some who’ve chosen not to leave their homes at all. Staying against evacuation orders, thinking there’s somehow something they can do to save their property if they’re there in person.

There’s a sense of helplessness and anger. Many feel abandoned.

The government has pledged to pay up to €150,000 (£126,979) to anyone who’s lost their home. But there’s a lack of trust in political promises and many are all too aware the wildfires will be back again next summer.

This is now a recurring nightmare.

The evacuation centre is run entirely by volunteers. While we were there supplies and donations were delivered – food parcels with messages of hope scrawled on the packaging.

Two priests paid a visit with more food and water.

Without the volunteers and community support, it’s not clear what many of these people would do. Without the international effort helping Greek firefighters, the scale of the catastrophe doesn’t bear thinking about.

As dusk fell, a team of British firefighters return from another 12-hour day battling fires in the intense heat. I told them of the woman full of gratitude for their work who said they’d saved her home.

Their exhausted faces broke into smiles.

There isn’t much in the way of happy news here and this was a welcome moment. With more than 20 countries sending help to Greece, the global response has been heartening.

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