NEWS

Evia residents flee wildfire by sea; EU sends help

evia-residents-flee-wildfire-by-sea-eu-sends-help

Greece’s coast guard helped with evacuations Wednesday on the island of Evia, where residents escaping wildfires had fled to a beach for safety, and fire crews across the country struggled to contain new blazes amid the country’s worst heat wave in decades.

The European Union sent assistance to Greece and other countries in southeast Europe that are grappling with huge wildfires after a blaze Tuesday burned more than 100 homes and businesses near the Greek capital of Athens.

Evacuations were also taking place in Greece’s southern Peloponnese region, which was facing a major fire. The coast guard said about 85 people were stranded on a beach in Evia, adding that private boats were also helping in the evacuation.

Temperatures in parts of Greece reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) on Wednesday. Neighboring countries are facing similar conditions, fueling deadly wildfires in Turkey and blazes in Italy and across the Mediterranean region. Officials in Albania said one person had died of smoke inhalation outside the southern city of Gjirokaster, where wildfires caused hundreds of residents to flee.

An EU disaster response group said assistance, including firefighters and water-dropping planes, were being sent from EU members to Italy, Greece, Albania and North Macedonia.

“Following the situation with great concern. European solidarity is at work to fight these terrible fires,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote in a tweet.

The EU Atmosphere Monitoring Service said smoke plumes from the region’s wildfires were clearly visible in satellite images, which also showed that the intensity of the wildfires in Turkey was at the highest level since records started in 2003.

Outside Athens, the Fire Service took advantage of cooler morning hours to send low-flying helicopters and planes to dump water on charred forests around Tatoi, 20 kilometers (12 1/2 miles) north of Athens, where more than 500 firefighters had battled through the night to contain the blaze. At least 80 cars were burned.

“The ground crews did vital work, [fighting] nightmarish fires in suburban forests,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, visiting a mobile control center in the area. “We had no loss of human life. … Homes will be rebuilt and over time the forest will grow back.”

Firefighters pumped water from a swimming pool to douse the flames, and water-dropping buckets were attached to helicopters provided by the military. Authorities said more than 100 homes and businesses had been seriously damaged or destroyed, and more than 500 people had spent the night in hotels used as shelters.

The fire outside Athens sent clouds of smoke over the Greek capital, obscuring visibility and prompting health authorities to issue warnings to people with breathing difficulties to remain indoors.

The blaze raged very close to a large forested estate and palace that once belonged to Greece’s royal family and is now a public park but Greece’s Culture Ministry said Wednesday that the Tatoi estate was not harmed.

It said artifacts “of particular historic and artistic value” were removed from storage areas in the estate as a precaution on Tuesday and overnight. Under a major restoration program, thousands of artifacts from the former palace and outbuildings – including ceremonial carriages, luxury cars, antiquities, paintings and clothes – have been stored for years in sheds on the estate pending their conservation and future exhibition.

Sporadic power outages were reported in areas near the fire, after the flames toppled electricity transmission towers, adding more strains to Greece’s overloaded national grid.

Authorities said 81 wildfires had been reported around the country from late Monday to late Tuesday.

The leafy Athens suburbs of Varybobi and Tatoi lie at the foot of Mount Parnitha, next to large forests of mainly pine trees. The fire, which began on Tuesday afternoon inside the forest, quickly raced through the flammable pine and reached the main square of Varybobi.

Some residents took to social media to offer shelter for animals affected by the fire.

The EU Commission said two firefighting airplanes from France are being sent to Italy, while Cyprus sent two planes and a ground crew to help Greece. The Netherlands and Czech Republic sent a helicopter each to Albania, and Slovenia is sending 45 firefighters to North Macedonia.

The heat wave is forecast to hover over Greece until the end of the week. [AP]