Firefighters battle flames for 7th day on Greek island of Evia

Hundreds of homes have already been destroyed by bushfire, deputy governor says

Firefighters continued to try to prevent a bushfire from reaching communities and a thick forest on the Greek island of Evia on Monday, after the flames destroyed hundreds of homes in seven days.

While most of the fires that ignited in the past two weeks have stabilised or receded in other parts of Greece, the situation on rugged and forested Evia was critical.

Firefighters were trying to save the villages of Kamatriades and Galatsades on Monday because “if the fire passes through there, it will end up in a thick forest that will be difficult to extinguish", they told Greek news agency Ana.

After the blaze approached one village after another in the north of the island, firefighters toiled until dawn to quench flames at Monokarya to protect the town of Istiaia, without the help of water-dousing aircraft, Ana reported.

On Monday, thick and suffocating smoke enveloped the coastal region of Pefki, where hundreds of villagers were taken to safety by boat and others regrouped, AFP reported.

Greece and neighbouring Turkey have been battling devastating fires for almost two weeks as the region suffers its worst heatwave in decades. Fires have caused two deaths in Greece and eight in Turkey, and dozens have been admitted to hospital.

While rain brought some respite from the blazes in Turkey at the weekend, Greece continued to suffer from an intense heatwave that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said should show even doubters the harsh reality of climate change.

On Sunday, deputy minister for civil protection Nikos Hardalias said there was “another difficult night” ahead, with strong winds pushing a fire towards beach villages on Evia, north-east of Athens.

Of the 650 firefighters sent on the island – the second largest in Greece after Crete – 250 were from Serbia and Romania, supported by 11 planes and helicopters dousing flames with water during the day, the Greek firefighting services said.

But the air support faced “serious difficulties” because of turbulence, thick smoke and limited visibility, Mr Hardalias said.

Giorgos Kelaitzidis, Evia's deputy governor, echoed the concerns of many when he criticised the “insufficient forces” available to fight the fires while “the situation is critical” on the island.

At least 35,000 hectares of land and hundreds of homes had been burnt, he said.

Hundreds of people have already fled the island and another 349 were taken to safety early on Sunday, the coastguard said.

In Pefki village, young people carried older people over the sand onto a ferry.

Elsewhere, villagers joined in the battle against the flames, helping firefighters.

“We are in the hands of God,” Evia resident Yannis Selimis, 26, told AFP.

“The state is absent. If people leave, the villages will burn for sure.”

The situation looked better elsewhere, with officials saying fires in the south-western Peloponnese region and a suburb north of Athens had abated. A fire on Crete was also brought under control.

But Mr Hardalias said the risk of fires reigniting was heightened.

About 300 firefighters remained on the Peleponnese and rescue teams on Monday were still fighting flames at the foot of Mount Parnes, 30 kilometres north of Athens. These included units from Israel, Cyprus and France.

From July 29 to August 7, 56,655 hectares were burnt in Greece, the European Forest Fire Information System said. The average area burnt over the same period between 2008 and 2020 was 1,700 hectares.

Updated: August 9th 2021, 1:08 PM
EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS