NEWS

Wildfire abates but hundreds of firefighters battle on

wildfire-abates-but-hundreds-of-firefighters-battle-on

A major wildfire that has ravaged a pine forest and burned homes northwest of the Greek capital appeared somewhat abated Friday, although hundreds of firefighters were still working to fully contain the blaze.

The fire near the village of Vilia, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) from Athens, broke out on Monday, one of hundreds of wildfires that have burned across Greece this month.

By Friday evening 461 firefighters, including 143 from Poland, 166 vehicles, 10 water-dropping planes and 18 helicopters were fighting the blaze, the fire department said.

Forty-one new wildfires broke out in the 24 hours between Thursday evening and Friday evening, the fire department said, with most being tackled and extinguished in their early stages.

One of those blazes began overnight in a seaside area southeast of Athens, and Greece’s state broadcaster ERT said the fire was believed to have been started by someone throwing a flare into a field with low vegetation near houses. Nearly 30 firefighters brought the fire under control Friday morning.

The exact causes of many of Greece’s fires have not yet been established, but arson is suspected in many of them, and more than a dozen people have been arrested — including a 14-year-old boy.

Greece’s wildfires come in the wake of the country’s worst heat wave in about three decades that left shrubland and forests parched.

The blazes have stretched Greece’s firefighting capabilities to the limit, leading the government to appeal for international help, including through a European Union emergency response system. About 24 European and Middle Eastern countries responded, sending planes, helicopters, vehicles and hundreds of firefighters.

On Thursday, Citizens Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis said Romania had offered to send firefighters with vehicles once more, after the more than 100 who had been operating in Greece earlier this month returned home. Greece had accepted the offer “with gratitude,” the minister said.

The Romanian government said 142 firefighters were heading to Greece on Friday.

Intense heat and wildfires have also struck other Mediterranean countries. Recent wildfires have killed at least 75 people in Algeria and 16 in Turkey, while in southern France 1,200 firefighters have been struggling to contain a major blaze that has forced thousands to flee, killed two people and injured 26. Worsening drought and heat have also fueled wildfires in the western United States and in Russia’s northern Siberia region.

Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme events.

[AP]