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Villages evacuated as wildfires rage in Greece

August 13, 2019

As a major wildfire on the island of Evia continues to spread, rescuers are racing to evacuate hundreds of people. "The only way for this fire to be extinguished is when there's nothing left to burn," a firefighter said.

Flames rise from a forest fire near Psachna village on the island of Evia, northeast of Athens
Image: picture-alliance/Y. Karahalis

Hundreds of people were evacuated from villages on the Greek island of Evia on Tuesday, as flames from a wildfire in a nature preserve moved closer to their homes.

Firefighters across Greece are working to contain several wildfires that have broken out since the weekend, with hot temperatures, dry weather and gale-force winds fanning the flames.

What we know so far:

  • About 500 people were evacuated from a monastery and the villages of Kontodespoti and Makrymalli.
  • More than 200 firefighters, seven helicopters and six water-dropping planes have been deployed to battle the fire in Evia, Greece's second-largest island.
  • Thick smoke from the fire blanketed the capital Athens, 110 kilometers (70 miles) away.
  • A second forest fire is burning on the northern island of Thassos, while firefighters are also battling a third blaze near Thebes.
  • Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis cut short a vacation to return to Athens due to the fires.
A wildfire rages at night in the Hymettus mountain range outside Athens, Greece
Dry conditions and winds have aided the spread of the firesImage: picture-alliance/N. Paleologos

'I feared for my life'

Panos Agiannitis, a volunteer firefighter at the scene of the major fire in Evia, told Athens municipal radio that the flames were so high that they blocked out the sun.

"I feared for my life ... you could feel the heat 250 meters away," he said, adding: "The only way for this fire to be extinguished is when there's nothing left to burn."

A helicopter drops water over a fire in Peania, eastern Athens
Hundreds of firefighters and several helicopters have been deployed to battle the hard-to-reach forest fireImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Stavrakis

Concerns over blaze: Authorities have warned about the high risk of fires this week, urging the public not to light campfires or barbecues. Greek officials are hoping to avoid another deadly catastrophe like the one that occurred last year. More than 100 people were killed last July when a fast-moving forest fire struck a seaside town near Athens, trapping people in their cars.

Concerns over climate change: Although forest fires are common in Greece during the summer, environmental campaigners have voiced alarm over the rising number of wildfires around the world, saying they are a symptom of man-made global warming.

rs/aw (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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