Fires ravage forests in Greece; thousands of evacuees

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Wildfires ravaged some of Greece’s last remaining forests on Saturday, encroaching on more populated areas after burning dozens of homes, businesses and farms during the country’s worst heat wave in three decades.

One of the massive fires threatened the most important national park in the Greek capital and sent choking smoke to the Athens area, where authorities have set up a hotline for residents with respiratory problems. Thousands of residents and vacationers in areas where fires broke out days ago have fled by land and sea.

In apocalyptic scenes overnight and through to Saturday morning, ferries evacuated 1,153 people from a seaside village and beaches in Evia, an island of rugged and wooded mountains popular with vacationers and campers, after the The approaching flames cut off all other means of escape. People would grab babies and carry old people on chairs when they boarded small ferries.

A man watches the flames as a forest fire approaches Kochyli beach near the village of Limni on the island of Evia, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Athens, Greece, Friday August 6, 2021. another day Friday, forcing thousands to flee by land and sea, and killing a volunteer firefighter on the outskirts of Athens in a massive forest fire that threatened the most important national park in the Greek capital.  (AP Photo / Thodoris Nikolaou)
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A man watches the flames as a forest fire approaches Kochyli beach near the village of Limni on the island of Evia, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Athens, Greece, Friday August 6, 2021. another day Friday, forcing thousands to flee by land and sea, and killing a volunteer firefighter on the outskirts of Athens in a massive forest fire that threatened the most important national park in the Greek capital. (AP Photo / Thodoris Nikolaou)

A local official in the southern Peloponnese of Mani, the site of another major fire, estimated that 70% of the area had been destroyed.

“It’s a biblical disaster. We are talking about three quarters of the municipality,” East Mani deputy mayor Drakoulakou told state broadcaster ERT, pleading for more support from the dropped planes.

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Fires described as the worst in decades have also swept across swathes of neighboring Turkey’s southern coast in the past 10 days, killing eight people. Turkey’s senior forestry official said 217 fires had been brought under control since July 28 in more than half of the country’s provinces, while firefighters continued to work on Saturday to contain six fires in two provinces.

In Greece, the fire that broke out north of Athens killed a volunteer firefighter on Friday. At least 20 people have been injured in fires across the country. The multiple fires pushed the country’s firefighting forces to their limits as teams tackled the constant rekindling of several of the fires, including the large blaze that burned outside the capital.

A volunteer works to put out a fire in Yatagan, Mugla province, Turkey on Friday, August 6, 2021. Thousands of people fled uncontrollable forest fires in Greece and Turkey on Friday, as a long heat wave turned forests into powder magazines that threatened populated areas, electrical installations and historic sites.  (Ismail Coskun / IHA via AP)

A volunteer works to put out a fire in Yatagan, Mugla province, Turkey on Friday, August 6, 2021. Thousands of people fled uncontrollable forest fires in Greece and Turkey on Friday, as a long heat wave turned forests into powder magazines that threatened populated areas, electrical installations and historic sites. (Ismail Coskun / IHA via AP)

The Greek government has appealed for help through the European Union’s emergency aid system. Firefighters and planes arrived from France, Ukraine, Cyprus, Croatia, Sweden and Israel, and more arrived from Romania and Switzerland on Saturday. Egypt announced on Saturday that it was sending two helicopters.

Greek Civil Protection Chief Nikos Hardalias, speaking at a briefing Friday evening, said firefighters were facing “exceptionally dangerous and unprecedented conditions” as they battled 154 wildfires this week, 64 of which were still burning overnight.

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“In the last few days, we have been faced with an unprecedented situation in our country, in the intensity and wide distribution of forest fires, and new outbreaks everywhere,” he said. “I want to assure you that all available forces are participating in the fight.”

The country was hit by its most prolonged heat wave in 30 years, with temperatures reaching 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures calmed down on Friday, but winds strengthened, making the situation even worse.

A firefighter tries to put out a blaze as volunteers hold the garden hose in Agios Stefanos, north Athens, Greece on Friday August 6, 2021. Thousands of people fled uncontrollable forest fires in Greece and Turkey, including a major fire just north of the Greek capital of Athens which left one dead.  (AP Photo / Thanassis Stavrakis)

A firefighter tries to put out a blaze as volunteers hold the garden hose in Agios Stefanos, north Athens, Greece on Friday August 6, 2021. Thousands of people fled uncontrollable forest fires in Greece and Turkey, including a major fire just north of the Greek capital of Athens which left one dead. (AP Photo / Thanassis Stavrakis)

Orders to evacuate villages and neighborhoods have been constant, sent by push alerts to cellphones in affected areas, as police and firefighters have gone door to door urging people to leave homes. in danger.

Changing winds and new hot spots on Friday caused the fires north of Athens and Evia to change direction several times, returning in some cases to threaten areas that had narrowly escaped destruction earlier in the week.

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After burning forests and houses towards Lake Marathon, the capital’s main water reservoir, a branch of the blaze moved into Mount Parnitha National Park. The park, one of the last remaining substantial forests near Athens, still bears the deep scars of wildfires in 2007.

The 38-year-old volunteer firefighter who died on Friday sustained a head injury after being struck by a falling utility pole north of Athens. At least 20 people required treatment across the country, including two firefighters hospitalized in intensive care.

Smoke spreads over Parnitha Mountain during a forest fire in the village of Ippokratios Politia, about 35 kilometers (21 miles) north of Athens, Greece on Friday August 6, 2021. Thousands of people people fled uncontrollable forest fires in Greece and Turkey on Friday, including a major fire just north of the Greek capital of Athens that claimed one person's life, as a prolonged heat wave left them dry forests and that flames threatened populated areas and electrical installations.  (AP Photo / Lefteris Pitarakis)

Smoke spreads over Parnitha Mountain during a forest fire in the village of Ippokratios Politia, about 35 kilometers (21 miles) north of Athens, Greece on Friday August 6, 2021. Thousands of people people fled uncontrollable forest fires in Greece and Turkey on Friday, including a major fire just north of the Greek capital of Athens that claimed one person’s life, as a prolonged heat wave left them dry forests and that flames threatened populated areas and electrical installations. (AP Photo / Lefteris Pitarakis)

Authorities have urged residents of Athens to wear masks outside and to close the windows of their homes due to the dense smoke that darkens the capital.

The causes of the fires are under investigation. Hardalias said three people were arrested on Friday – in the greater Athens region, in central and southern Greece – on suspicion of starting fires, in two cases intentionally. Police said the suspect detained north of Athens started fires in three separate locations in the area ravaged by the big blaze, which first broke out on Tuesday.

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Greek and European officials have blamed climate change for the large number of summer fires that burn across southern Europe, from southern Italy to the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.

In the Turkish seaside province of Mugla, most of the fires appeared to be under control on Saturday morning. While the latest government information after midnight indicated that there were still eight fires in the area, the municipalities of Marmaris and the wider Mugla province said cooling efforts were underway in the areas. where the fires were brought under control.

City officials in Antalya, on the Turkish Mediterranean, said a fire was continuing around the Eynif Plain where wild horses live. The fires in Manavgat, where the fires have been raging for days, are said to be brought under control.

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In Italy, firefighters battling a forest fire in the province of Reggio Calabria found the bodies of a man and a woman in an olive grove. Italian news agency LaPresse said on Friday the two men died from smoke inhalation.

Massive fires have also been burning in Siberia in northern Russia for weeks, while hot, dry and gusty weather has also fueled devastating wildfires in California.

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