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Forest fires ravage Greece’s forests and cut the big island in two

GOUVES, Greece (AP) – Columns of smoke and ash blocked the sun over Greece’s second largest island and turned the skies orange as a days-old wildfire devoured pristine forests and triggered more evacuation alerts on Sunday, as residents called for additional firefighting. to help.

The fire in Evia, an island of mountains and forested canyons dotted with small coves of crystal clear water, began on August 3 and swept through the popular summer destination from coast to coast, burning uncontrollably for five days. Dozens of homes and businesses have been destroyed and thousands of residents and vacationers have been evacuated.

The fire is currently the most serious of dozens to erupt in Greece following the country’s most prolonged and intense heat wave in three decades, which has raised temperatures to 45 degrees Celsius (113 F) and created conditions of bone dryness.

The Greek Coast Guard said that three patrol boats, four navy ships, a ferry, two tourist boats and numerous fishing and private boats were ready to carry out further potential evacuations from the seaside village of Pefki, in the northern tip of Evia.

About 350 people have already boarded the ferry, the coast guard said, as towering flames cut many evacuation routes from the roads. Evacuation orders were issued for four villages, including Pefki, but some residents refused to leave, hoping to save their properties.

Planes and helicopters dropped water on the flames from above.

“It is already too late, the area has been destroyed,” lamented Giannis Kontzias, mayor of the municipality of Istiaia, north of Evia, on the Greek television channel Open TV. Residents of neighboring villages were urged to travel to Istiatia, a town of 7,000 in northern Evia that firefighters struggled to save overnight.

Villagers and residents of North Evia’s main port, Aidipsos, were urged to close windows, doors and fireplaces to prevent embers from entering homes.

Civil protection chief NIkos Hardalias said conditions in Evia were particularly difficult for planes and helicopters dropping water. Their pilots were facing “great danger” with limited visibility, air turbulence and wind currents from the fire, he said.

“We have a tougher afternoon ahead of us, a tougher night,” said Hardalias. “All the forces that have fought an uphill battle all these days will continue to operate with relentless intensity, with the same selflessness. “

Overnight, coast guards and ferries evacuated 83 people from the beaches of northern Evia. On Friday evening, ferries evacuated more than 1,000 people from beaches and a seaside village in doomsday scenes as flames raged on the hills behind them.

Local officials and residents of northern Evia called for television news broadcasts on Saturday, calling for more firefighters and planes to drop water.

Firefighters said 575 firefighters with 35 ground crews and 89 vehicles were battling the Evia blaze, including 112 Romanian firefighters and 100 Ukrainian firefighters sent to Greece as reinforcements. Four helicopters and three planes, including a huge Beriev-200 leased from Russia, provided air support.

Three other major fires also burned on Sunday in Greece’s southern Peloponnese region, while a massive blaze that ravaged forests, homes and businesses on the northern outskirts of the Greek capital appeared to be in decline. This fire traversed large swathes of a national park on Mount Parnitha, the largest remaining forested area near Athens which still bore deep scars from a fire in 2007.

The reactivation of the blaze north of Athens was a constant concern, Hardalias said, adding that firefighters and the military had patrolled through the night to deal with the situation. A firefighter was transferred to hospital on Sunday after losing consciousness while on patrol, Hardalias said. His condition was not life threatening.

A volunteer firefighter died on Friday from head injuries caused by a fall from a utility pole north of Athens, while at least 20 people were treated for fire-related injuries, including two firefighters who were hospitalized in intensive care.

The causes of the fires are under investigation. Three people were arrested on Friday _ in the greater Athens region, central and southern Greece _ on suspicion of starting fires, in two cases intentionally.

Another person, a 47-year-old Greek, was arrested on Saturday afternoon in the Athenian suburb of Petroupoli for lighting two fires in a grove and setting four dumpsters on fire, police said.

Ten countries have already sent firefighting personnel and equipment such as planes to Greece, while eight others are sending additional reinforcements.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited the firefighters’ headquarters in Athens on Saturday and expressed “deep sorrow” for the death of the volunteer firefighter. He then went to the airport from where the firefighting planes take off and thanked the pilots, Greek and French.

Ensuring aid to all those affected by the forest fires will be “my first political priority,” the prime minister said, promising that all burnt areas would be reforested.

“When this nightmarish summer is over, we will turn our full attention to repairing the damage as quickly as possible and restoring our natural environment,” Mitsotakis said.

Greek and European officials have blamed climate change for the large number of fires that have ravaged southern Europe in recent days, from Italy to the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.

Massive fires have also been burning in Siberia in northern Russia for weeks, forcing the evacuation of a dozen villages on Saturday. In total, forest fires have burned nearly 15 million acres this year in Russia.

In the United States, hot, dry and gusty weather also fueled devastating wildfires in California.

About the photo: People use a ferry to evacuate the village of Pefki on the island of Evia, about 189 kilometers (118 miles) north of Athens, Greece on Sunday, August 8, 2021. Columns smoke and ash block sun above Greece’s second-largest island as days-old wildfire is devouring pristine forests and triggering more evacuation alerts. (AP Photo / Petros Karadjias)

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Rodney N.

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