NEWS

Wildfire raging in Evros

Wildfires forced Greek authorities to evacuate villages on Friday after blazes destroyed around 4,000 hectares of forest in the country's northeast and forced a nationwide scramble, officials said.

Three villages were evacuated in the southern Peloponnese peninsula -- reviving memories of wildfires in the same area that killed dozens of people four years ago -- as new fire fronts surfaced across the country amid high summer temperatures and strong winds.

New fires were reported on Friday in rural Athens and near Thessaloniki, adding to pressure caused by previous outbreaks in western Greece.

The biggest wildfire continued to burn for a third day in the northeastern region of Evros, near the border with Turkey.

Authorities there declared a state of emergency and requested six firefighting planes from Greece's European Union partners.

"There are estimates that between 3,500 and 4,000 hectares (up to 9,900 acres) have been destroyed,» regional governor Aris Yiannakidis told private television channel Mega.

The blaze is also threatening the nearby pine forest of Dadia, said Yiannakidis.

"This is an enormous crime. We must ensure that the fire does not place inhabited areas and the Dadia forest at risk,» he said.

France and Spain have agreed to send two planes each and EU officials have asked Portugal and Italy to help provide the remainder of the requested aircraft, Greek officials said. They said the first four planes were set to arrive on Friday.

Another brush fire threatened homes in the suburb of Ano Glyfada near Athens late on Thursday before firefighters got it under control.

One firefighter died on Monday after getting trapped by flames in the southern Peloponnese peninsula.

More than 10 percent of Greek territory was devastated by forest fires from 1983 to 2003, according to a report published last month by the Greek institute of agricultural research.

The country has seen an average 1,465 forest fires per year, the report said.

One of the most serious occurred in 2007, when 77 people died and 250,000 hectares were ravaged, mainly in the Peloponnese and the island of Evia.

Scores of fires break out in Greece every summer, aided by high temperatures and strong winds and frequently attributed to arson, though the perpetrators are rarely caught.

[AFP]

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