Historic wildfires rage through Greece

The fires have scorched 77,000 hectares of land

The Canadair amphibious aircraft drops water over wildfires near Alexandroupolis. AFP
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Hundreds of firefighters from across Europe were battling three major blazes in Greece on Sunday, including one of the largest wildfires seen in the European Union.

Fleets of water-dropping planes and helicopters are being used to tackle the fires, with one near the capital Athens.

The biggest of the blazes, believed to be responsible for 20 of the 21 wildfire-related deaths last week, was burning for a ninth day.

On Sunday, 295 firefighters, seven planes and five helicopters were tackling flare-ups that created new fire fronts, the fire department said.

Evacuation orders were issued for two villages, one in the Evros region and another in the Rodopi region.

The massive blaze in the Evros region of north-eastern Greece has destroyed vast tracts of forest and burnt homes in outlying areas of the city of Alexandroupolis.

The wildfire has scorched 77,000 hectares of land, making it one of the largest recorded in the EU, and had 120 active hotspots, the European Union’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service said on Sunday.

Copernicus is the EU space programme’s Earth observation component and uses satellite imagery to provide mapping data.

On the northwestern fringes of Athens, another major wildfire has been blazing for days, scorching homes and burning into the national park on Mount Parnitha, one of the last green areas near Athens.

The fire department said 260 firefighters, one plane and three helicopters were trying to tame the flames.

A third major wildfire, which started on Saturday on the island of Andros, was still burning out of control on Sunday.

Another 73 firefighters, two planes and two helicopters are tackling the blaze, which is understood to have been started by lightning strikes.

Greece has been plagued by daily outbreaks of dozens of fires over the past week as gale-force winds and hot, dry summer conditions combined to whip up flames and hamper firefighting efforts.

Firefighting forces are stretched to the limit and Greece has called in reinforcements.

Germany, Sweden, Croatia and Cyprus have sent aircraft, while Romanian, French, Czech, Bulgarian, Albanian, Slovak and Serb firefighters are helping out.

The causes of the two largest fires have not yet been determined. For some of the smaller blazes, officials have said arson or negligence is suspected, and several people have been arrested.

On Saturday, fire department officials arrested two men, one on the island of Evia and one in the central Greek region of Larissa, for allegedly deliberately setting fire to dried grass and vegetation to spark wildfires.

Updated: August 27, 2023, 4:56 PM