Forest fire burns through Greek nature reserve for third day


Greek authorities sent reinforcements Thursday to firefighters battling a major forest fire in a nature reserve on the island of Evia as water-dropping aircraft tried to extinguish the flames in a hard-to-reach canyon.

On the third day of the fire, 12 water planes, including two sent from Italy and one from Spain, and 11 helicopters resumed flights shortly after dawn, the fire department said. Around 100 more firefighters were sent overnight, bringing the total to 382.

The flames were near a wildlife refuge, northeast of the village of Platania.

The fire broke out at around 3 a.m. Tuesday and has ravaged the nature reserve of dense pine forest. Four villages were evacuated on the first day, although some residents returned to their homes on Wednesday. One volunteer firefighter who suffered burns underwent surgery on Thursday.

A state of emergency has been declared in the area, and Greece requested firefighting assistance from other European countries.

On the first day, firefighting efforts were hampered by strong winds that fanned the flames and carried smoke as far as the Greek capital, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) to the south. Those winds had died down by Thursday, but the terrain was also presenting difficulties to the firefighting efforts, with canyons and ravines running through the extremely flammable pine forest.

At least two new blazes, one in southern Greece and one on the western island of Zakynthos, broke out Thursday, the fire department said.

Separately, the fire department said two people — a 58-year-old man and a 52-year-old man — were arrested on Wednesday and Thursday on suspicion of arson in two separate cases in southern Greece.

Forest fires are common in Greece during the hot, dry summer months. Authorities have repeatedly warned the public not to engage in outdoor activities that could cause fires, such as welding work, burning weeds or lighting campfires and barbecues.

Parks and forest areas are closed at times of high fire risk, and daily bulletins are issued on the level of fire risk around the country. Causing a forest fire is a criminal offence in Greece.

Last summer, more than 100 people died when a fast-moving forest fire broke out in a seaside area northeast of Athens and raged through the vacation-home settlement of Mati.

The wildfire trapped many in homes, on narrow paths and in their cars as they attempted to flee, while others drowned while trying to swim away from the heat and choking smoke engulfing beaches.