Western Greece on high alert as fire threatens villages

The western port of Patra Wednesday was declared to be in a state of emergency as a wildfire stoked by high temperatures and strong winds raged on three fronts around the city of 220,000 residents.

Five villages in the rugged terrain east of the city were also declared to be in a state of emergency, while dozens of students and staff at the University of Patra, as well as residents of the village of Ano Kastritsi were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Ashes and bits of burnt wood rained down on parts of the western Peloponnese city, prompting authorities to evacuate the university campus and to put the nearby hospital at Rio on high alert.

In the mountains east of Patra, Ano Kastritsi was evacuated after the fire threatened houses on the periphery of the village, while authorities called off the evacuation of Platani, another village in the vicinity, at the last minute when firefighters were able to bring the blaze under control.

In Ano Kastritsi residents verbally attacked Patra Mayor Yiannis Dimaras when he arrived to inspect the evacuation, blaming him for the fact that the village has experienced a water shortage for the past two days that hampered the firefighting effort.

The regional governor of Western Greece, Apostolos Katsifaras, meanwhile, said that authorities will continue to be on high alert today as gale-force winds are expected to continue unabated.

?The conditions are very tough. We are using everything we have against the fire,? Katsifaras said Wednesday when asked to assess the progress of the firefighting effort.

More than 70 firefighters, aided by five water-bombing airplanes, battled the blaze, which broke out in the early hours of Wednesday. The main front was more than 1 kilometer long, authorities said, adding that they believe it to have been caused either intentionally or accidentally by a person or persons.

Meanwhile, the Citizens? Protection Ministry Wednesday issued warnings for Evia, Attica and the northeastern Peloponnese as forecasts for strong winds have raised fire risk levels.

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