Forest fires: hotels in Greece, houses evacuated

Athens, Greece –

Greek firefighters were battling four major blazes across the country on Saturday, including one where they had to evacuate more than 450 people to an island resort.

A fire that broke out on the island of Lesbos on Saturday morning prompted authorities to call for the evacuation of the resort town of Vatera, in the south of the island.

The fire came very close to the complex and at least one house was engulfed in flames. But more than five hours after an emergency message was sent to residents by telephone, the evacuation was still “in progress”, fire department spokesman Yannis Artopoios told reporters. He said 50 firefighters with 17 fire trucks, nine special firefighting planes and a helicopter are battling the blaze.

Local police said on Saturday afternoon they had evacuated more than 450 people from two hotels and 92 homes and that 60 officers were scouring the area for anyone refusing to move.

Greece’s biggest fire on Saturday was burning in the northeast near the border with Turkey for the third day in a row, inside a national forest that is home to rare species, especially vultures. The national forest of Dadia is mainly made up of highly flammable pines.

The fire department said 320 firefighters in 68 fire engines, plus 6 special aircraft, 9 helicopters and numerous volunteers were battling the blaze, while another 200 loggers were cutting fire paths through the forest.

Two other major fires burned on Saturday, one in a remote mountainous area in the western Macedonia region and the other in the southern Peloponnese region, Artopoios said.

The European Union has given the Greek Forest Service €72 million this year to help maintain forests and clear them to prevent fires from spreading.

Greece, unlike other parts of Europe, has so far avoided a heat wave this summer, but temperatures have risen. The country’s hot, dry summers and high winds have combined with the longer-term effects of climate change to increase the overall risk of wildfires.

About Mohammed B. Hale

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