Firefighters try to stop Greek island blaze from reaching forest

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Pefki (Greece) (AFP)

Firefighters tried Monday to prevent the fires from reaching key communities and thick forest that could fuel a hell that an official said has destroyed hundreds of homes in seven days on the Greek island of Euboea.

While most of the nearly two weeks of fires had stabilized or receded in other parts of Greece, those of rugged and forested Euboea were the most disturbing and created doomsday scenes.

The firefighters prioritized the rescue of the villages of Kamatriades and Galatsades on Monday because “if the fire goes through there, it will end up in a thick forest which will be difficult to extinguish”, the firefighters told the Greek news agency ANA .

After the blaze besieged village after village in the north of the island, firefighters also worked until dawn to put out the flames in Monokarya to protect the town of Istiaia, all without using sprinklers, ANA reported.

Thick, suffocating smoke also enveloped the Pefki coastal region on Monday, where hundreds of villagers were evacuated by sea, while others regrouped, an AFP team said.

– Reality of climate change –

Greece and neighboring Turkey have been battling the devastating fires for nearly two weeks as the region experiences its worst heat wave in decades. Two people have been confirmed dead in Greece and eight in Turkey, while dozens have been hospitalized.

While the rain provided some respite from the fires in Turkey over the weekend, Greece continued to suffer from an intense heat wave which Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said should show even skeptics the harsh reality of climate change.

Forest fires on the island of Evia have charred pine forests, destroyed homes and forced tourists and locals to flee ANGELOS TZORTZINIS AFP

Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias on Sunday warned of “another difficult night” to come, saying strong winds were pushing a fiery front towards the seaside villages of Euboea in the northeast. of Athens.

Among the 650 firefighters deployed on the island, the second in Greece after Crete, 250 were from Serbia and Romania, supported by 11 planes and helicopters spraying the flames with water during the day, according to the Greek fight services. fires.

But air support encountered “serious difficulties” due to the turbulence, thick smoke and limited visibility, Hardalias said.

Giorgos Kelaitzidis, vice-governor of Evia, echoed many when he blasted “insufficient forces” to fight the fires as “the situation is critical” on the island.


ANGELOS TZORTZINIS AFP

He said at least 35,000 hectares of land and hundreds of homes were set on fire.

– ‘In the hands of God’ –

Hundreds of people have already fled the island and 349 others were taken to safety early Sunday, the coast guard said.

In the village of Pefki, young people carried older people across the sand to a ferry.

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

Comparison of the area burned in Greece during the first 7 months of 2021 with the average of the first 7 months of the years 2008 to 2020.
Comparison of the area burned in Greece during the first 7 months of 2021 with the average of the first 7 months of the years 2008 to 2020. AFP

“We are in the hands of God,” Yannis Selimis, 26, from Evia, told AFP. “The state is absent. If people leave, the villages are sure to burn.”

The situation looked better elsewhere, with officials saying the fires in the southwestern Peloponnese region and a suburb north of Athens had abated. A fire in Crete has been brought under control.

But Hardalias warned the risk of a resurgence of the fires was heightened.

Some 300 firefighters remained mobilized in the Peloponnese and rescue teams fought the flames again on Monday at the foot of Mount Parnes, 30 kilometers north of Athens. These included units from Israel as well as Cyprus and France.


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