Fires rampage through forests in Greece; thousands evacuated – Fox News

Wildfires rampaged through some of Greece’s last remaining forests for yet another day Saturday, encroaching on more inhabited areas after burning scores of homes, businesses and farms during the country’s worst heat wave in three decades.

One of the massive fires threatened the Greek capital’s most important national park and sent choking smoke across the Athens region, where authorities set up a hotline for residents with breathing problems. Thousands of residents and vacationers in areas where fires broke out days ago have fled by land and by sea.

In apocalyptic scenes overnight and into Saturday morning, ferries evacuated 1,153 people from a seaside village and beaches on Evia, an island of rugged, forested mountains popular with vacationers and campers, after approaching flames cut off all other means of escape. People clutched babies and carried elderly people on chairs as they boarded the small ferries.

A man watches the flames as wildfire approaches Kochyli beach near Limni village on the island of Evia, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Athens, Greece, late Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Wildfires raged uncontrolled through Greece and Turkey for yet another day Friday, forcing thousands to flee by land and sea, and killing a volunteer firefighter on the fringes of Athens in a huge forest blaze that threatened the Greek capital's most important national park. (AP Photo/Thodoris Nikolaou)

A man watches the flames as wildfire approaches Kochyli beach near Limni village on the island of Evia, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Athens, Greece, late Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Wildfires raged uncontrolled through Greece and Turkey for yet another day Friday, forcing thousands to flee by land and sea, and killing a volunteer firefighter on the fringes of Athens in a huge forest blaze that threatened the Greek capital’s most important national park. (AP Photo/Thodoris Nikolaou)

A local official in in the southern Peloponnese region of Mani, the site of another major fire, estimated that 70% of the area had been destroyed.

“It’s a biblical catastrophe. We’re talking about three-quarters of the municipality,” East Mani Deputy Mayor Drakoulakou told state broadcaster ERT, pleading for more support from water-dropping aircraft.

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Fires described as the worst in decades also have swept through stretches of neighboring Turkey’s southern coast for the past 10 days, killing eight people. The top Turkish forestry official said 217 fires had been brought under control since July 28 in over half of the country’s provinces, while firefighters continued working Saturday to tame six blazes in two provinces.

In Greece, the fire that broke out north of Athens killed a volunteer firefighter Friday. At least 20 people have been injured in blazes nationwide. The multiple fires have stretched the country’s firefighting forces to the limit as crews tackled the constant rekindling of several of the blazes, including the large fire burning outside of the capital.

A volunteer works to extinguish a fire in Yatagan of the Mugla province, Turkey, Friday Aug. 6, 2021. Thousands of people fled wildfires burning out of control in Greece and Turkey on Friday, as a protracted heat wave turned forests into tinderboxes that threatened populated areas, electricity installations and historic sites. (Ismail Coskun/IHA via AP)

A volunteer works to extinguish a fire in Yatagan of the Mugla province, Turkey, Friday Aug. 6, 2021. Thousands of people fled wildfires burning out of control in Greece and Turkey on Friday, as a protracted heat wave turned forests into tinderboxes that threatened populated areas, electricity installations and historic sites. (Ismail Coskun/IHA via AP)

The Greek government appealed for help through the European Union’s emergency support system. Firefighters and aircraft have arrived from France, Ukraine, Cyprus, Croatia, Sweden and Israel, with more arriving Saturday from Romania and Switzerland. Egypt said Saturday it was sending two helicopters.

Greek Civil Protection chief Nikos Hardalias, speaking during a Friday evening briefing, said firefighters faced “exceptionally dangerous, unprecedented conditions” as they battled 154 wildfires this week, with 64 still burning into the night.

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“Over the past few days, we have been facing a situation without precedent in our country, in the intensity and wide distribution of the wildfires, and the new outbreaks all over,” he said. “I want to assure you that all forces available are taking part in the fight.”

The country has been baked by its most protracted heat wave in 30 years, with temperatures soaring to 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures eased Friday, but winds picked up, further exacerbating the situation.

A firefighter tries to extinguish a fire as volunteers hold the water hose in Agios Stefanos, in northern Athens, Greece, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Thousands of people have fled wildfires burning out of control in Greece and Turkey, including a major blaze just north of the Greek capital of Athens that left one person dead. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A firefighter tries to extinguish a fire as volunteers hold the water hose in Agios Stefanos, in northern Athens, Greece, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Thousands of people have fled wildfires burning out of control in Greece and Turkey, including a major blaze just north of the Greek capital of Athens that left one person dead. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Evacuation orders for villages and neighborhoods have been constant, sent by push alerts to mobile phones in affected areas, while police and firefighters have gone door to door urging people to leave imperiled homes.

On Friday, shifting winds and new flashpoints caused the blazes to the north of Athens and on Evia to repeatedly change direction, in some cases returning to threaten areas that had narrowly escaped destruction earlier in the week.

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After burning through forests and houses towards Lake Marathon, the capital’s main water reservoir, a branch of the fire moved into the Mount Parnitha national park. The park, one of the last remaining substantial forests near Athens, still bears deep scars from wildfires in 2007.

The 38-year-old volunteer firefighter who died Friday had suffered head injuries after being struck by a falling power pole north of Athens. At least 20 people have required treatment nationwide, including two firefighters hospitalized in intensive care.

Smoke spreads over Parnitha mountain during a wildfire in Ippokratios Politia village, about 35 kilometres (21 miles), northern Athens, Greece, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Thousands of people fled wildfires burning out of control in Greece and Turkey on Friday, including a major blaze just north of the Greek capital of Athens that claimed one life, as a protracted heat wave left forests tinder-dry and flames threatened populated areas and electricity installations. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Smoke spreads over Parnitha mountain during a wildfire in Ippokratios Politia village, about 35 kilometres (21 miles), northern Athens, Greece, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Thousands of people fled wildfires burning out of control in Greece and Turkey on Friday, including a major blaze just north of the Greek capital of Athens that claimed one life, as a protracted heat wave left forests tinder-dry and flames threatened populated areas and electricity installations. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Authorities urged Athens residents to wear masks outdoors and to close windows in their homes due to the dense smoke clouding the capital.

The causes of the fires are under investigation. Hardalias said three people were arrested Friday — in the greater Athens area, central and southern Greece — on suspicion of starting blazes, in two cases intentionally. Police said the suspect detained north of Athens had allegedly lit fires at three separate spots in the area ravaged by the large blaze, which first broke out Tuesday.

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Greek and European officials have blamed climate change for the large number of summer fires burning through southern Europe, from southern Italy to the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.

In Turkey’s seaside province of Mugla, most fires appeared to be under control Saturday morning. While the latest government information from after midnight said there were still eight fires in the area, municipalities in Marmaris and the wider Mugla province said cooling efforts were ongoing in areas where fires were brought under control.

Municipal officials in Antalya, on the Turkish Mediterranean, said a fire continued around the Eynif plain where wild horses live. Fires in Manavgat, where fires have raged for days, were reported to be under control.

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In Italy, firefighters battling a wildfire in Reggio Calabria province found the bodies of a man and a woman in an olive grove. Italian news agency LaPresse said Friday the two died of smoke inhalation.

Massive fires also have been burning across Siberia in Russia’s north for weeks, while hot, bone-dry, gusty weather has also fueled devastating wildfires in California.