Greek firefighters battle to extinguish forest blaze

Author: AFP

Nearly 300 firefighters, two water bomber planes and five helicopters were battling Sunday to put out a forest fire in Greece that has so far destroyed around 20 homes and injured eight people, authorities said.

Five villages have been evacuated and eight people hospitalised with burns and respiratory problems since the fire broke out early Saturday near Patras, in the Peloponnese, about 210 kilometres (130 miles) west of Athens, the firefighting service said.

The mayor of nearby Aigialeias, DimitrisKalogeropoulos, called it “an immense catastrophe”.

“There has not yet been an official assessment of the damage, but around 10 houses in the area of Ziria have burnt down, as well as farming sheds and animals stables, which is a lot for the residents of the region who make their living from agriculture,” he told the ANA news agency.

Aigialeias’ town hall provided emergency accommodation on Saturday for people who had to flee their villages.

The local newspaper, Patrastimes, reported that around 30 houses, farming sheds and stables were consumed by flames in the villages of Ziria, Kamares, Achaias and Labiri.

“We slept outside overnight, terrified that we would not have a house when we woke up,” a Labiri resident told Greek TV station Skai.

The seaside resort of Loggos was also evacuated, with nearly 100 residents and tourists sent to the nearby city of Aigio.

‘SITUATION IS BETTER’:

Civil Protection Minister MichalisChrisochoidis, who visited the scene to assess the damage on Sunday, said “the current situation is better than it was on Saturday”.

“A hundred properties have been saved thanks to the firefighters’ battle against the flames,” he said. “We remain cautious and will support our citizens affected by this fire.”

A motorway in the region was shut down as was the Rio-Antirrio bridge across the Gulf of Corinth connecting the Peloponnese and mainland Greece, ANA reported.

Hospitals in Patras and Aigio were put on notice to admit any injured people, while the coastguard has been on standby to rescue any swimmers overcome by smoke.

According to the civil protection agency, 58 forest fires have broken out over the past 24 hours, although most were quickly brought under control.

The EU’s European Forest Fire Information System said that 13,511 hectares had been burnt as of Sunday.

Greece is hit by forest fires every summer, but experts have warned that global warming increases both their frequency and intensity.

The country has been in the grip of another heat wave since Friday, with temperatures hovering between 42 and 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit), weather forecasters say.

Several days ago, a fire ravaged Mount Penteli, close to the capital Athens, but caused no casualties.

It was the same area where a fire began in July 2018 that went on to claim 102 lives in Greece’s worst-ever toll from a forest inferno.

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