NEWS

Greece battles wildfires for third day, site of ancient Olympics saved

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Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said authorities were doing “whatever is humanly possible” to tackle wildfires burning across Greece for the third day on Thursday, including near the ancient site of the first Olympic Games.

Dozens of towns and villages have been evacuated since Tuesday, from the outskirts of Athens to the island of Evia near the capital, and in the Peloponnese, as a protracted heatwave and strengthening winds fuelled more than 150 wildfires in recent days.

The Civil Protection Authority issued an “extreme fire warning” for Friday as temperatures continued to hover around 40 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit).

“If there are even a few people who have reservations about whether climate change is real, I call on them to come here and see the intensity of the phenomena,” Mitsotakis said from Ilia, where a blaze on Wednesday threatened Ancient Olympia.

The fire near the archaeological games site in Ancient Olympia continued to burn wooded areas on Thursday, prompting the evacuation of more villages, but its treasures had escaped danger.

“Our forces fought an all-night battle… to keep the archaeological site and the town intact,” Citizens’ Protection Minister Mihalis Chrisohoidis said.

The site, where the Olympic flame begins its journey to the city hosting the modern Olympics, is one of Greece’s most popular tourist attractions.

“Nightmare with no end,” the Eleftheros Typos newspaper wrote on its front page on Thursday. “Fires Everywhere,” the left-wing Avgi said.

On Evia, more than a dozen villages have been evacuated since Tuesday, with some 85 people rescued by boat from a beach, as the wildfire scorched pine trees and sent clouds of ash and smoke into the air. Miles away, skies in Athens were darkened.

Authorities cleared more people from the island on Thursday as church bells sounded a warning and more than 170 firefighters with 52 engines and six aircraft were operating in the area.

The armed forces announced the doubling of fire patrols this month and offered vehicles to help with evacuations.

Fires that had threatened the northern outskirts of Athens on Tuesday rekindled on Thursday, with firefighters and aircraft still working there. An Athens prosecutor launched a preliminary probe into the causes of the fire, which burned scores of homes.

The opposition SYRIZA and KINAL parties have accused the government of being slow to respond to Tuesday’s blaze, while winds were still low and conditions favorable. [Reuters]