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

ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Three large forest fires hit Greece on Saturday, one threatening entire cities and cutting a line across Evia, the country’s second largest island, isolating its northern part. Others engulfed forested mountains and skirted ancient sites, leaving behind a trail of destruction one official described as “a biblical catastrophe.”

A flotilla of 10 ships – two coast guard patrols, two ferries, two passenger ships and four fishing boats – waited in the resort town of Pefki, near the northern tip of Evia, ready to evacuate more residents and tourists if necessary, said a coast guard. the spokesperson told The Associated Press, on condition of anonymity.

Firefighters fought through the night to save Istiaia, a town of 7,000 inhabitants in northern Evia, as well as several villages, using bulldozers to clear clear paths in the thick forest.

The Evia fire forced the hasty evacuation on Friday evening of around 1,400 people from a seaside village and the island’s beaches by a motley assortment of boats after the approaching flames cut off other means of ‘evasion.

The other dangerous fires were one in the southern Greek Peloponnese peninsula, near ancient Olympia, and one in Fokida, in the region of central Greece, north of Athens. The ancient Olympia fire moved east, away from the ancient site, threatening villages in a sudden outbreak on Saturday afternoon.

North of Athens, the fire at Mount Parnitha, a national park with significant forests, was still burning with occasional outbreaks, but a spokesperson for the fire department told the AP on Saturday evening that the efforts of containment “were doing well”. Deputy Minister of Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias told reporters on Saturday evening that firefighters hoped to contain the blaze on Sunday.

The smoke of this fire was still spreading in the basin of Athens. Earlier, the blaze had sent choking smoke to the Greek capital, where authorities had set up a hotline for residents with respiratory problems.

A volunteer firefighter died on Friday and at least 20 people were treated in hospitals over the past week during Greece’s most intense heat wave in three decades. Temperatures climbed to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited the firefighter’s headquarters in Athens on Saturday and expressed “deep sorrow” for the firefighter’s death. He then proceeded to the airport, west of Athens, from where the firefighting planes take off and thanked the pilots, Greek and French, who arrived to support the effort of fight against the fire.

Ensuring aid to all those affected by the forest fires will be “my first political priority,” he 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.

A local official in the Mani region in the southern Peloponnese, south of Sparta, estimated that the forest fire had destroyed around 70% of his area.

“It’s a biblical catastrophe. We are talking about three quarters of the municipality, ”East Mani deputy mayor Eleni Drakoulakou told state broadcaster ERT, pleading for more planes to drop water.

Other officials and residents of southern Greece telephoned on TV broadcasts, calling live for more help with the fires.

Greece has asked for help through the European Union’s emergency aid system. Firefighters and planes were dispatched from France, Spain, Ukraine, Cyprus, Croatia, Sweden, Israel, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and the United States.

On Saturday alone, the German Disaster Assistance Agency tweeted that 52 firefighters and 17 vehicles from Bonn and 164 firefighters and 27 vehicles from Hessen were on their way to Athens to provide assistance. Egypt said it was sending two helicopters, while 36 Czech firefighters with 15 vehicles left for Greece.

The causes of the fires are under investigation. Three people were arrested on Friday – in the greater Athens area, in 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.

Greek and EU officials also blamed climate change for the large number of fires ravaging southern Europe, from southern Italy to the Balkans, via Greece and Turkey.

Fires described as the worst in decades have swept across swathes of 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, but firefighters continued to work on Saturday to control six fires in two provinces.

In Turkey’s seaside province of Mugla, a popular area for tourists, some fires appeared to be under control on Saturday, but the forestry minister said fires were still burning in the Milas region. Environmental groups have urged authorities to protect the forests of Sandras Mountain from nearby fires.

Further north, at least six neighborhoods were evacuated due to a forest fire in western Aydin province, where shifting winds made containment efforts difficult, Turkish media reported.

City officials in Antalya, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, said a forest fire was still burning around the Eynif Plain, where wild horses live.

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.

Hot, dry, gusty weather in the United States also fueled devastating California wildfires.

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Becatoros reported from Argostoli, Greece and Varaklas from Thrakomacedones, Greece. Zeynep Bilginsoy contributed from Istanbul and Petros Karadjias from Arkitsa, Greece.

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Follow all of AP’s stories on climate change issues at https://apnews.com/hub/climate.

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