Fires continue to ravage Greece amid Europe’s protracted heat wave

By Niki Kitsantonis

Huge wildfires raged for a sixth day Sunday in several parts of Greece, forcing thousands more people from their homes and razing vast tracts of forestland, with even more countries having stepped in to help the Greek firefighting effort.

Wildfires were also still blazing in nearby Turkey, where at least eight people have died, as well as in other parts of Europe, which is enduring a protracted heat wave and drought that have created tinderbox conditions.

On Sunday morning, Greek authorities ordered the evacuation of four more villages in northern Evia, an island northeast of Athens, but many residents stayed behind in a desperate effort to protect their homes. State television aired video footage of residents and firefighters using water hoses and tree branches to try to put out the advancing flames.

Hundreds more people were evacuated from Evia by ferry Sunday, with televised images showing large clouds of gray smoke hanging over the island and blotting out the sun. Coast guard vessels remained on standby to move residents and vacationers to safety. And bulldozers were being used to create firebreaks on the outskirts of thick forests, in an attempt to stop the flames from overtaking them.

Overwhelmed by multiple blazes fueled by the record-breaking heat wave, Greek authorities have sought firefighting help from a number of countries. Several — including Croatia, Cyprus, France, Israel, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the United States — have already sent aircraft and firefighters. Many others, including Britain, Germany, Poland and Qatar, were also sending aid.

The worst of the fires Sunday were on Evia — Greece’s second-largest island, which has seen huge sections of pristine pine forests reduced to ash — and on the southern Peloponnese peninsula, where ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, was threatened by flames this past week.

A large blaze that broke out Tuesday north of Athens, before breaking into several fronts and ravaging thousands of acres of forest, was contained early Sunday, but firefighters remained on standby amid fears it would rekindle.

Greece’s General Secretariat for Civil Protection has warned that the fire risk will remain high for several days. On Monday, the temperature in central Greece is expected to exceed 41 degrees Celsius, or nearly 106 degrees Fahrenheit.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pledged that once “this nightmarish summer is over,” victims of Greece’s fires would be compensated and destroyed forestland would be regenerated. The immediate priority, he stressed, was to protect human lives and, when possible, property.

On Friday, a 38-year-old volunteer firefighter from Ippokrateios Politeia, a settlement north of Athens impacted by the fires, died of head injuries after being hit by a falling electricity pylon.

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