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Fire rages on Greece’s Evia, threat to people averted

Aircraft dumped water early on Wednesday (August 14) to douse the flames of a wildfire on the Greek island of Evia that had prompted the evacuation of villages and spurred an appeal for help from elsewhere in Europe.

A state of emergency has been declared in regions of the densely-forested island east of Athens, after the blaze broke out on Tuesday (August 13), fanned by strong winds and high temperatures.

Italy said it would send two aircraft after an appeal for airborne firefighting equipment from Greek authorities. Officials said the conditions were improving by morning after firefighters spent the night battling flames.

The Regional Governor of Central Greece, Kostas Bakoyannis, told Reuters that the situation had improved on Wednesday morning thanks to the “superhuman efforts” of firefighters.

Fire officials said four villages and hundreds of people were evacuated as a precaution on Tuesday.

While there was little danger to human life, Bakoyannis said the ecological damage to the “rare and unique” pine forest was “enormous.”

Greece has bitter memories of a horrific blaze that tore through the seaside town of Mati near Athens in July 2018, killing 102 people in a matter of hours. Authorities were accused then of poor coordination and a slow response.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a conservative elected last month, interrupted his holiday on Crete to return to Athens where he was briefed on the situation.

Television images showed flames and plumes of black smoke on mountainsides carpeted in pine. Parts of Evia‘s forests are a Natura 2000 site, which the European Union designates as a nature reserve.

Greece often faces wildfires during its dry summer months, and authorities have warned of the high risk of blazes this week. Environmental campaigners see an increasing number of wildfires around the world as a symptom of climate change.

(Production: Vasilis Stogiannis, Phoebe Fronista, Ben Dangerfield)

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