NewsGreece evacuates villages as forest fire rages

Greece evacuates villages as forest fire rages

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 Alepochori, Greece: On a mountain range overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, firemen battled the country’s first significant inferno of the year, forcing the evacuation of more than a dozen Greek communities.

Although no casualties were recorded, junior civil protection minister Nikos Hardalias predicted that “it would be a rough night… we’re battling in terrible conditions.”

After the fire broke out on Wednesday evening in the town of Schinus on the Gulf of Corinth, around 90 kilometres (56 miles) west of Athens, people were evacuated before morning from the first of 17 towns and hamlets impacted, a fire department spokesman told AFP.

“Hundreds of people” had been moved out in the action, which also covered two monasteries, Hardalias said, adding that around 20 square kilometres (eight square miles) of pine forest had been razed.

The fire crossed the rocky mountain range of Mount Gerania and headed toward the seaside town of Megara on Thursday afternoon, prompting officials to issue more evacuation orders by text message and loudhailers.

“We’re on a war footing, we’re in a state of emergency,” mayor Grigoris Stamoulis told the ANA news agency, adding that “when the fire started, we had to keep an eye out because we couldn’t rule out the wind bringing the fire front here”.

Smoke from the fire had billowed over Athens and the Cycladic islands as far as Ikaria, according to the national observatory in Athens. People should reduce their physical activity and close doors and windows, according to the health ministry.

A new fire broke out in Viotia, central Greece, on Thursday.

Challenging terrain

Villagers who were taken from adjacent settlements to the seaside Corinthian Gulf village of Alepochori for protection said they hardly had time to dress.

“We were alerted at four in the morning by the police, who told us to leave,” an elderly local told Skai TV.

“They then searched neighbouring homes for people unable to move on their own. We were not in danger,” he said.

To put out the fire, fire chief Stefanos Kolokouris claimed reinforcements had been sent in from all around the nation.

The fire had a front that was ten kilometres broad, according to local officials.

“It’s a large fire in a pine forest (and the) terrain is difficult,” Kolokouris told Skai TV.

“This is a deep forest that has never burnt before,” Yiorgos Gionis, the mayor of Loutraki, a nearby vacation town, told Alpha TV.

Kolokouris expressed optimism that the fire may be brought under control during the day.

However, the winds grew stronger in the afternoon.

This is the first large fire of the year 

Many residents have vacation houses in the neighbourhood, but no one’s life is in danger, according to fire authorities.

However, the area’s electricity has been knocked off, and state grid specialists on the site say it might take up to 48 hours to restore service.

“This is the first major fire of 2021… communities have been evacuated as a precaution,” fire department spokesman Vassilis Vathrakogiannis had earlier told Skai.

“We have no information (that people’s lives were threatened) and we have not had to rescue anyone,” he said.

The fire department reported that around 180 firefighters with 62 fire engines, as well as volunteers, had been dispatched to the region, backed by 17 aircraft and three helicopters.

According to the mayor of Loutraki, a small number of residences were set ablaze.

Local officials claimed the fire had spread to the sea on Wednesday, destroying two boats in the seaside community of Mavrolimni.

Every year during the dry summer season, when high winds and temperatures often reach 30 degrees Celsius, wildfires pose a threat to Greece (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

At Greece’s worst-ever fire tragedy, 102 people died in the beachfront town of Mati, near Athens, in 2018.

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