Greece’s fire department scrambled firefighting aircraft and ground forces as at least two new blazes broke out in areas already scarred by wildfires this summer, with strong winds complicating efforts to contain them.
The first broke out Monday morning in the south of Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, whose north was decimated earlier this month by a blaze that burned for more than 10 days. The second was burning in the Vilia area northwest of Athens, where a major blaze was brought under control Friday after burning for five days.
Authorities issued an evacuation order for Vilia, as some residents hosed down their gardens and homes, hoping to save them, while police halted traffic on a nearby highway.
“A new major battle has begun,” regional governor Giorgos Patoulis told Open TV.
August, which began with Greece’s most severe heat wave in about three decades, is quickly turning into one of the country’s most destructive fire seasons, with dozens of wildfires breaking out every day across the country.
Thousands of people have been forced to flee the flames, which have devoured forests, agricultural land, homes and businesses. Evia has been particularly badly hit, with a major blaze destroying tens of thousands of hectares from coast to coast.
One volunteer firefighter has died, and at least four others have been hospitalized with burn injuries.
The country’s firefighting capabilities have been stretched to the limit, leading the government to appeal for international help earlier this month as four major fires burned in separate parts of the country.
The fire department said it was scrambling ground and air firefighting forces to the Vilia area, around 60 kilometres northwest of Athens.
Nearly 300 firefighters, including reinforcements sent from Romania, had already been in the area, operating at the site of the previous fire, which had burned large swathes of a pine forest and some homes.
Over the weekend, authorities maintained hundreds of firefighters, backed up by helicopters and water-dropping planes, in the area to extinguish small flare-ups, fearing strong winds could rekindle the flames.
Meanwhile, the fire that broke out Monday morning in Evia was near its western coast. The fire department scrambled 64 firefighters with 26 vehicles, one ground team, nine helicopters and one water-dropping plane, and said the blaze was contained after several hours.
The coast guard said it had one lifeboat, one private boat and two ferries on standby in case a sea evacuation became necessary. In the earlier fire in Evia’s north, hundreds of people were evacuated by sea from beaches and coastal villages as the fire raced down the hillsides toward them.
The causes of Greece’s wildfires haven’t been officially established, but more than a dozen people have been arrested on suspicion of arson, including a 14-year-old boy. On Friday, Citizens Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis said a special prosecutor for organized crime cases was involved in the investigation.
Intense heat and wildfires have struck other Mediterranean countries. Recent wildfires have killed at least 75 people in Algeria and 16 in Turkey, while in southern France, 1,200 firefighters have been struggling to contain a major blaze that has forced thousands to flee, killed two people and injured 26.
Worsening drought and heat have also fuelled wildfires in the western United States and in Russia’s northern Siberia region.
Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme events.
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