ATHENS: Greece deployed Thursday nearly 400 firefighters backed by EU firebombers to try to put out a massive wildfire on the island of Evia burning through a pristine pine forest for a third day.
“We are more optimistic today because the winds have died down,” Yiorgos Kostopoulos, civil protection supervisor for Evia, told state TV ERT.
Firefighters managed to contain the fire in a ravine near the village of Platana, backed by nearly 100 vehicles, nine helicopters and 12 planes, including two from Italy and one from Spain.
“We are doing whatever we can to create additional fire defences near the village,” Kostopoulos said as an earth mover dug a trench behind him.
The wildfire has caused inestimable damage to the local 550-hectare mountain wildlife sanctuary of Agrilitsa.
Local community head Dimitris Yiannoutsos told web TV Open there was “total destruction” in the forest but admitted that with the fire still active, officials were “unable to fully estimate the extent of the damage.”
The fire broke out in the early hours of Tuesday on Greece’s second-largest island, prompting the evacuation of four villages including Platana.
EU Humanitarian Commissioner Christos Stylianides on Wednesday called the mobilisation of Greek forces “exemplary” after emergency crews managed to save inhabited areas.
A firefighter suffered burns on Tuesday after trying to cross the fire on a motorbike, and three cars belonging to campers were burned, a local mayor said.
But no other injuries or respiratory problems that required hospitalisation have been reported.
Greece has been hit by a spate of wildfires since the weekend, fanned by gale-force winds and temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who cancelled his summer vacation and returned to Athens on Tuesday, called for the EU to further bolster fire assistance services.
– Climate change ‘taking toll’ –
“Climate change is taking its toll on southern Europe and that is why it is imperative at European level to strengthen the EU rescue mechanism,” Mitsotakis said Wednesday.
He paid tribute to the fire crews coping with an average of 50 forest blazes daily.
“I am aware that our firefighters, particularly over the last five days, have given their all, they are without sleep and often without food,” Mitsotakis said.
Other fires on Tuesday were contained on the island of Thassos, the central region of Viotia, and in the Peloponnese region.
On Monday, a major blaze threatening homes in Peania, an eastern suburb of Athens, was brought under control. At least two houses were burned and radio broadcast equipment was damaged on nearby Mount Ymittos.
On Sunday, a fire on the small island of Elafonissos, in the Peloponnese, 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 102 people died last year in Greece’s worst fire disaster.