Wildfire burns through Greek pine forest for fourth day

Evacuation orders have been issued for several villages near Athens

Hundreds of Greek and Polish firefighters, backed by more than two dozen helicopters and planes, on Thursday battled a major wildfire that has been ravaging a pine forest north-west of the Greek capital for four days.

The fire near the village of Vilia, about 60 kilometres from Athens, has already burnt through thousands of hectares and led to evacuation orders being issued for several villages in the area.

Across the country, the fire department said 55 new forest fires had broken out in the 24 hours between Wednesday evening and Thursday evening, with most tackled in their early stages.

Reinforcements were sent to the main blaze in Vilia, with 22 helicopters, including two from Russia and one from the UAE, and 11 planes providing air support to 451 firefighters and 166 vehicles.

The ground forces include 143 Polish firefighters sent to help Greece, which has been battling hundreds of wildfires this month.

The Polish firefighters will remain in the country for another two weeks, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Twitter.

The blaze burnt several houses and summer homes in the area of the village of Thea, including the home of local resident Nikolaos Loanas.

“This house that burnt to the ground is mine. I’ve had it for about 40 to 45 years and it was built through hardship, with a lot of effort, sweat and stress,” he said.

“It was 45 years’ worth of memories … My wife and I moved here when we were young, my two children grew up here, played here, had fun here, my three granddaughters liked it here.”

Greece’s wildfires come in the wake the country’s most severe heatwave in about three decades that left shrub land and forests parched.

The causes of the fires have not been officially established, although more than a dozen people have been arrested on suspicion of arson.

The blazes have stretched the country’s firefighting capabilities to the limit, leading the government to appeal for international help, including through an EU emergency response system.

About 24 European and Middle Eastern countries responded, sending planes, helicopters, vehicles and hundreds of firefighters. Most have since returned home.

“The situation we are facing is unprecedented for the country,” government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said during a press briefing.

“The fight we are waging on this front is threefold: extinguishing the fires, preventing new outbreaks, and repairing damage and compensating those affected.”

Intense heat and wildfires have also struck other Mediterranean countries.

Firefighters in France worked to contain a forest fire in the French Riviera on Tuesday and recent wildfires have killed at least 75 people in Algeria and 16 in Turkey.

Worsening drought and heat have also fuelled wildfires in the western US and in Russia’s northern Siberian region.

Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme weather events.

Updated: August 19th 2021, 7:18 PM