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Greek PM cancels holiday as major island fire prompts evacuations


A firefighter helicopter drops water over a fire near Psachna village on the island of Evia, northeast of Athens, on August 13, 2019. (Photo by ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP)

Hundreds of villagers were evacuated Tuesday and the Greek Prime Minister cancelled a vacation as firefighters battled a major wildfire on the country’s second-largest island of Evia, authorities said.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis cut short a vacation on his home island of Crete, state TV ERT said, amid a race against time to evacuate hundreds of villagers from Kontodespoti, Makrymalli and Stavros with the flames nearing homes, officials said.

“There are flames all around and it’s difficult to breathe… house yards are on fire,” Dirfys-Messapia mayor Yiorgos Psathas told state TV ERT, with the smoke billowing as far as Athens.


“We will order more evacuations if the need arises,” he added.

The fire on Greece’s second-largest island after Crete, located northeast of Athens, started at about three am (0000 GMT) and was quickly spread by strong winds, the semi-official news agency ANA said.

Over 200 firefighters were fighting the blaze backed by 75 fire trucks, five water-bombing helicopters and six planes.

The crews face rugged terrain, hills and poor visibility complicating air operations.

“The flames are 20-30 metres (65-98 feet) high…you can’t even see the sun,” Panos Agiannitis, a volunteer firefighter at the scene, told Athens municipal radio.

“I feared for my life…you could feel the heat 250 metres away.”

“The only way for this fire to be extinguished is when there’s nothing left to burn,” he said.

The local Panagia Makrymallmonasterywas evacuated first as a precaution, TV SKAI said.

The winds blew the smoke from the blazing pine forest north toward the Magnesia region and south to the Attica peninsula and Athens.

ANA said the pine forests on Evia are part of the “Natura 2000” European network of protected areas and habitats.

Greece has been hit by a spate of wildfires since the weekend amid gale-force winds and temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 F).

On Monday, a major forest fire threatening homes in Peania, an eastern suburb of Athens, was brought under control. At least two houses were burned but there were no reports of injuries.

On Sunday, a fire on the small island of Elafonissos, in the Peloponnese region, was brought under control after a two-day battle.

Two more fires were doused on Saturday in Marathon, close to Mati, the coastal resort where last year 102 people died in Greece’s worst fire disaster.


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