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Some like it hot


I’m good in the heat: I’m used to it. So I tell myself whenever my computer registers 41 degrees, as it has just now. The reason I’m good in the heat (I tell myself again) is that I spent several formative years in the Wimmera district of Victoria, where the land is as flat as a pancake and the summer skies are endless. The wheat fields are endless, too, or they used to be, and are punctuated by silos that stick up like little fingers through the shimmering heat.

I was seven when we arrived in the township. The Overland train had delivered us at three o’clock on that January morning, and six hours later we were lugging our suitcases the four blocks to our house. The flowering gums were bright red, and the cicadas were deafening. And it was definitely hot. It remained so: when my sister and I were at school, Mum would shut the house up and do the housework in her underwear. In the evening all the windows and doors were open while Dad watered the garden; we three sang around the piano while another hot day gasped to its close.

So the Peloponnesian summer held no fears for me. The English roses of my acquaintance wilted in darkened rooms while I carried on regardless: I hate the cold. But how I remember the record-breaking heat wave of 1987, which occurred in the last 12 days of July. The mercury stood at 40 plus every day, and the top temperature was 47C. 1300 people died in Greece: I attended three village funerals and should have attended a fourth, for my poor neighbour had woken up one morning to find her husband dead on the bedroom floor.

My parents were visiting. Predictably, my mother coped well, but my father lay all day on the couch, wearing only his bathers and a wet face washer on his head. From time to time he moaned gently, and he never forgot what he called the Daddy of all heat waves. He is not around now to observe what southern Europe is going through at present. Extreme heat and tinder-dry vegetation become  very dangerous when winds start to rise, and this pattern has already prevailed in a number of places.

The current conditions started last Wednesday, and it is not really known when they will change, although meteorologists are making noises about 16 days or more. Authorities are worried and wary, for during last summer 62000 people died in European heat waves. The Acropolis and other famous archaeological sites are closed from 12 noon to 5.30pm, so concerned are the medical experts. The Hellenic Red Cross is handing out free bottles of water in Athens, and this practice is also taking place here in Kalamata, a sight I have never seen before.


'The current conditions started last Wednesday, and it is not really known when they will change, although meteorologists are making noises about 16 days or more. Authorities are worried and wary, for during last summer 62000 people died in European heat waves.' 


And then there are the fires. (I may be good in the heat, but just the thought of fire unnerves me, to say the least, as I cannot forget the orange wall of flame that was heading towards the village in 2007.) My youngest son is a fire-fighter, so the summer is always freighted with personal worry. Sure enough, he has already spent all of one night up a mountain in the Corinth area, but so far our province of Messenia is not threatened.

It’s a different story, however, on the tourist island of Rhodes, where fires have been burning for five days, and are now deemed to be out of control. It is not surprising to learn that a state of emergency has been declared. It is reported that three hotels have burned down, while a record 19000 people have been evacuated from homes and holiday residences, some by boat. Once again the Greek public has risen to meet a dire situation: last night at least one lot of evacuees arrived at emergency accommodation in a school to find food, water, medical supplies and sleeping bags readily available, and it is gratifying to note that many rescued tourists have taken to social media in order to express their appreciation of such gestures.

Greek fire-fighters are under great strain, as 62 fires broke out in a mere 24 hour period recently. They are, however, being helped by many foreign fire personnel who have come to the rescue from as far away as Poland, Cyprus, Turkey and Canada. Another effort that is also appreciated.

But when will this fraught period end? For now the island of Corfu is alight.




Gillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire burning near the village Kandili near Athens on July 19, 2023 in Athens, Greece. (Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Heat, Greece, Climate Change, Fires, Heatwave, Europe



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Existing comments

It’s like a stab in the heart to be watching the fires in Greece. I’ve visited both Corfu and Rhodes as well as the mainland. I remember a conversation with a hotel employee in Athens before we set off for a visit to three islands - Naxos, Santorini and Mykonos. He said “You will love Naxos the most.” And I did! Stout hearts, Greece.

Pam | 26 July 2023  

There’s nothing like living through enough decades to have experienced climate change first hand.
And having a son as a firefighter must be a daily reminder of human beings causing our beautiful planet to cook.
Thanks Gillian for a great article. Such vivid and precious memories.

Douglas Fiona | 27 July 2023  

Your account of the inferno is predictably graphic and emotive. In addition to the heartbreak of the people who have lost homes, land, livelihoods and olive groves there’s the appalling environmental consequences of the loss of so much tree cover.
Thank you for your firsthand account and every good wish to your brave firefighter son.

Juliet | 27 July 2023  

I am saddened by the fires and the loss of lives and property. Surely no one can doubt the terrible consequences of climate change even if warnings were ignored. The tone of the press in the uk has also been worrying, concentrating on tourists being forced to leave their hotels and flights being canceled. I know that Greeks will have risen to the challenge of helping people but I believe that some tourists are not aware of their own responsibility for staying safe in such heat. Even here in Scotland temperatures reached 40 in June and there were people treated for severe sunburn However now in August 16 or 17 is the norm! We can only hope that we can survive extremes and appreciate our beautiful planet.

Maggie | 28 July 2023  

I grew up in Tamworth, on the north west slopes of the Great Dividing Range in NSW. Very hot and dry summers (pre-Celsius - always in Fahrenheit) and in the winter - freezing - literally - hot water bottles essential in those days long before electric blankets. But bushfires or wildfires were rarely of the ferocity and way out-of-control nature except rarely - Black Friday of the 1930s. But over the past 25 or so years when still living overseas and flying back into Australia before Xmases - lines of fires on the inland sides of the ranges - lines of smoke drifting eastwards far below across the landscape - it was an almost annual event - and Sydney often blanketed in smoke.. . Clearly we were entering global warming territory . In Western Canada and up to The Yukon and through Alaska in May of 2015 - temperatures during daytimes to 30 degrees C - the landscape tinder dry already - so the fires ravaging Canada now are part of the pattern - fires in Portugal, Spain, Greece… It’s now Death Valley temperatures into the future. But to have a family member into fire-fighting - on the ground or via aircraft - heroic work. So full of danger - these days. And politicians - ignoring the climate change - protecting their vested interest buddies from reducing global temperature rise. It’s maybe too late?

Jim Kable | 29 July 2023  

I was struck by the similarity of the response to the threat of fire in Greece to the Australian response. International support was at hand to help Greece. It is the same when Australia is in need; crews from all over the world fly in to help. Also the provision of aid and comfort for people who are evacuated seems to have been provided pretty efficiently in Greece. This usually is the case in Australia. These things don't just happen. Governments and communities work together to make these things happen. Sometimes it is not as efficient as some people would like, but the fact that help comes is some thing to be appreciated. I know this happens in lots places around the world, but it's worth thinking about, especially as in some instances the services are provided by volunteers.

Stephen | 31 July 2023