Forest fires are raging in Greek forests, cutting a large island in half


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A flotilla of ten ships – 2 Coast Guard patrols, 2 ferries, 2 passenger ships and 4 fishing boats – waited at the Pefki resort, near the northern tip of Evia, ready to evacuate more residents and tourists, if necessary, a Coast Guard spokeswoman told Associated Press, subject to the usual condition of anonymity.

A fire on Evia forced the emergency evacuation on Friday night of about 1,400 people from a coastal village and island beaches by a diverse number of boats after the approaching flames interrupted other escape routes.

Other dangerous fires were in the southern Greek peninsula of the Peloponnese, one near ancient Olympia and one in the Mani region of the Peloponnese, south of Sparta. The fire in eastern Olympia moved east of the ancient site, threatening the villages, in a sudden fire on Saturday afternoon.

North of Athens, a fire on Mount Parnitha, a national park with significant forests, continued to burn with occasional fires, but a spokesman for the Fire Service told the AP late Saturday that containment efforts were “going well”.

Smoke from that fire was still spreading through the Athens basin. Earlier, the fire sent suffocating smoke to the Greek capital, where authorities set up a telephone line for residents with breathing problems.

One volunteer firefighter was killed on Friday, and at least 20 people were treated in hospitals last week during the strongest heat wave in Greece in three decades. Temperatures jumped up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited the headquarters of the fire service in Athens on Saturday and expressed “deep sorrow” over the death of the firefighter.

Providing assistance to all affected by forest fires will be “my first political priority,” he said, promising that all burned areas will be afforested.

“Once this nightmarish summer is over, we will focus all our attention on repairing the damage as quickly as possible, and on restoring our natural environment,” Mitsotakis said.

A local official in Mania estimated that the fire destroyed about 70% of its area.

“It’s a biblical catastrophe. We are talking about three-quarters of the municipality, ”East Mani Deputy Mayor Eleni Drakoulakou told state-run ERT radio and television, advocating for more planes to discharge water.

Other officials and residents of southern Greece appeared on TV programs, appealing live on the air for additional help in extinguishing the fire.

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

On Saturday alone, the German disaster relief agency announced on Twitter that 52 firefighters and 17 vehicles from Bonn and 164 firefighters and 27 vehicles from Hessen were heading to Athens for help. Egypt said it was sending two helicopters, while 36 Czech firefighters with 15 vehicles headed for Greece.

The causes of the fire are being investigated. Three people were arrested on Friday – in the greater Athens area, central and southern Greece – on suspicion of starting the fire, in two cases intentionally.

Greek and European officials have also blamed climate change for a large number of fires burning in southern Europe, from southern Italy to the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.

The fires, described as the worst in decades, have engulfed eight parts of Turkey’s southern coast in the past 10 days. A senior Turkish 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 put out six fires in the two provinces.

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

Further north, at least six settlements have been evacuated due to fires in the western province of Aydin, where changing winds have hampered containment efforts, Turkish media reported.

Municipal 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, leading to the evacuation of a dozen villages on Saturday. In all, forest fires have burned nearly 15 million hectares in Russia this year.

In the United States, hot, dry to the bone and wasted weather has sparked devastating wildfires in California.

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Bekatoros reported from Argostoli in Greece, and Varaclas from Thracomacedones in Greece. Zeynep Bilginsoy contributed from Istanbul, and Petros Caradjias from Arkitsa, Greece.

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

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