Fire devours Greek island”s forests; residents urged to flee – News Vibe24

    Fire devours Greek island''s forests; residents urged to flee - Times of India
    PINE: Pillars of smoke and ash turned the sky orange and blocked the sun over Greece’s second largest island on Sunday, as a fire that engulfed virgin forests for days and devastated villages, prompting more evacuation alarms. The fire in Evia, an island with wooded mountains and gorges filled with small gulfs of crystal clear water, started on August 3 and cut the popular summer destination from coast to coast as it burned out of control.
    Many homes and businesses have been destroyed and thousands of residents and tourists have been displaced, many escaped the flames through flotillas that operated even in the dark of night.
    The fire is the most serious of the dozens that broke out after the most prolonged heat wave in Greece for three decades, which sent temperatures soaring to 45 degrees Celsius for 11 days, creating conditions of dryness in the bones.
    “It is already too late, the area has been destroyed”, mourns Giannis Kontzias, mayor of the municipality of Istiaia in northern Evia, on Greek open television. He was one of the many local officials and residents who went to the Greek television networks to ask for more firefighting assistance, especially from planes and helicopters that drop water.
    Residents of nearby villages were urged to head to Istiaia, a town of 7,000 residents where firefighters fought to save the night.
    In dramatic scenes on Sunday afternoon, flames blazing from the seaside village of Pefki on the north coast of the island, burn trees on the outskirts and enter the courtyards of houses. At least one house was on fire.
    Panicked residents ran with water tanks, hoses and branches in a seemingly futile attempt to put out the flames.
    Bitter, smoky smoke hung in the orange-gray air, turning the day into a revealing twilight as people headed to the pebble beach of Pefki, dragging suitcases, squeezing pets and helping elderly relatives.
    About 350 people had boarded the ship before the flames reached the village, the port said, while another 23 were rescued from other beaches in northern Evia.
    A ship, Coast Guard patrol boats, naval vessels and other vessels were on standby to evacuate the inhabitants.
    Evacuation orders were issued Sunday for four villages in northern Evia, including Pefki, but many residents refused to leave, hoping to save their property.
    In nearby Gouves, flames erupted from the tops of the trees, devouring the pine forest that led to the village. Some residents remained in the picturesque mountain village, bathing houses with water from garden hoses in a last-ditch effort to save them.
    Others used bulldozers to uproot trees and shrubs, hoping to create substandard fires.
    The head of the civil protection Nikos Hardalias said that the fire of Evia is burning on two fronts, one in the north and one in the south.
    He said conditions there were particularly difficult for water-jet planes and helicopters whose pilots were in “great danger” with limited visibility and air turbulence.
    “We have another difficult afternoon ahead of us, a more difficult night,” Hardalias said.
    “All the forces that are fighting a difficult battle all these days will continue to operate with undiminished intensity, with the same self-sacrifice.”
    But many have criticized the government’s efforts, citing a lack of firefighters or planes or delays in their arrival.
    “The atmosphere was suffocating, even though I was away from the fire. There was ash and smoke everywhere,” said Christina Tsatou, who was in the seaside village of Agios Georgios.
    “It is very sad that they did not send help in the first days and left the island burning. It was unfair and many people have lost their property, their livelihood.”
    The fires have expanded Greece’s firefighting capabilities to the limit, and the government has sought outside help. More than 20 countries in Europe and the Middle East responded by sending planes, helicopters, vehicles and manpower.
    During the night, the Greek Coast Guard and ferries evacuated 83 people from the beaches of northern Evia, after a coastal evacuation of more than 1,000 people on Friday night, as the flames raged on the hills behind them.
    The fire service announced that on Sunday 575 firefighters, 35 ground teams and 89 vehicles are fighting the fire in Evia, including 112 Romanian and 100 Ukrainian firefighters. Four helicopters and three planes provided air support.
    Three more large fires were also burning on Sunday in the southern Peloponnese, while another broke out on Sunday afternoon on the southern island of Crete.
    Another huge fire that destroyed forests, homes and businesses on the northern outskirts of the Greek capital seems to be in recession. This fire burned through large areas of a national park on Mount Parnitha, the largest forest area left near Athens.
    Firefighters were worried that the fire in Parnitha would be rekindled, so they and the army patrolled all night, Hardalias said. A firefighter was taken to hospital on Sunday after fainting during a patrol.
    On Friday, a volunteer firefighter died of head injuries from a fall from an electric pole north of Athens, while at least 20 people have been treated for fire-related injuries, including two firefighters being treated in intensive care.
    The causes of the fires are under investigation. Three people were arrested on Friday on suspicion of starting fires, in two cases deliberately.
    A 47-year-old Greek man was arrested on Saturday in a suburb of Athens for lighting two fires in a grove and setting fire to four garbage dumps. Police announced on Sunday that two more people had been arrested on suspicion of attempted arson: a 71-year-old Greek man in southern Greece and a foreigner in an Athens park.
    Greek and European officials have also blamed climate change for the large number of wildfires in southern Europe this summer, from Italy to the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.
    Massive fires have also been burning across Siberia in northern Russia for weeks, forcing the evacuation of twelve villages on Saturday. In all, fires have burned nearly 15 million acres in Russia this year.
    In the US, hot, dry and stormy weather has also fueled devastating wildfires in California.

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