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Greek firefighters battle blazes as temperatures soar

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A tree trunk burns following a wildfire near the village of Labiri, near Patras, Greece, August 1, 2021. REUTERS/Costas Baltas TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Firefighters were battling two large wildfires in Greece on Monday, one in the Peloponnese and the other on the island of Rhodes, with temperatures due to hit a punishing 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).

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A heatwave across Southern Europe also fed destructive fires in Turkey, Spain and Italy during the weekend, with experts warning climate change was increasing both the frequency and intensity of such blazes.

More than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of pine and olive groves have been torched by a fire that broke out on Saturday in Greece’s Achaia, near Patras in the Peloponnese, according to the National Observatory of Athens citing EU satellite images.

Officials have evacuated five villages and a seaside town, and eight people have been hospitalised with burns and respiratory problems.

The fire was not fully under control on Monday morning, the country’s weather service told the ANA news agency.

And temperatures of 44 to 45 degrees Celsius have been forecast for the western Peloponnese, posing new risks for land already parched by the brutal heatwave.

However, authorities were optimistic that the fire on the island of Rhodes, near the Turkish coast, was on the back foot after more firefighters and resources were deployed overnight.

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“Dawn finds Rhodes much better than the day before,” South Aegean Governor George Hatzimarkos said in a statement.

He added that the fronts of the fire were receding and “almost under control”.

“The first objective, the protection of human life, has been achieved,” he said, adding that “the damage to the power grid has been repaired”.

Firefighters evacuated a central area on the island known as “the Valley of the Butterflies” popular with hikers and tourists on Sunday.

Temperatures of between 40 and 42 degrees Celsius have been forecast for the island in the coming days, with the heatwave expected to peak on Monday and Tuesday.

The minimum temperature will not drop below 26-27 degrees in several areas nationwide, intensifying the “feeling of discomfort”, the weather service said.

Nearby Turkey is suffering its worst fires in at least a decade, claiming the lives of eight people and forcing hundreds to evacuate in southern areas popular with tourists.

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