Villages evacuated as wildfire rages on Greek island of Evia

Over 200 firefighters battling wind-fanned blaze backed by 75 fire trucks, 5 water-bombing helicopters and 6 jets.

    A major wildfire on the Greek island of Evia has forced the evacuation of at least two villages and a monastery as smoke from the wind-fanned blaze blanketed the capital, Athens, further south.

    Authorities on Tuesday evacuated some 500 residents from the villages of Kontodespoti and Makrimalli as the flames neared homes, officials said.

    The monastery of Panagia Makrymallis was evacuated first as a precaution.

    "There are flames all around and it's difficult to breathe ... house yards are on fire," Yiorgos Psathas, Dirfys-Messapia mayor, told state broadcaster ERT.

    "We will order more evacuations if the need arises," he added.

    More than 200 firefighters were battling the blaze backed by 75 fire trucks, five water-bombing helicopters and six planes. The crews face rugged terrain, hills and poor visibility complicating air operations.

    "The flames are 20-30 metres high ... you can't even see the sun," Panos Agiannitis, a volunteer firefighter at the scene, told Athens municipal radio.

    "I feared for my life ... you could feel the heat 250 metres away," he said. "The only way for this fire to be extinguished is when there's nothing left to burn."

    No fatalities had been reported and the winds were expected to subside in the evening.

    Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece's recently-elected prime minister, returned to Athens after cutting short a vacation on his home island of Crete.

    Acropolis hill with the Parthenon temple is covered with smoke from a wildfire burning the Island of Evia. in Athens
    Athens' Acropolis hill with the Parthenon temple is covered by smoke from a wildfire burning on the island of Evia [Costas Baltas/Reuters]

    The fire on Greece's second-largest island, located some 110km northeast of Athens, started at about 3am local time (00:00 GMT) at the side of a road and was quickly spread by strong winds through the dry vegetation, the semi-official news agency ANA said.


    The winds blew the smoke from the blazing pine forest north towards the Magnesia region and south to the Attica Peninsula and Athens.

    ANA said the pine forests on Evia are part of the "Natura 2000" European network of protected areas and habitats.

    Greece has been hit by a spate of wildfires since the weekend amid gale-force winds and temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius.

    On Monday, a major forest fire threatening homes in Peania, an eastern suburb of Athens, was brought under control. At least two houses were burned but there were no reports of injuries.

    On Sunday, a fire on the small island of Elafonissos, in the Peloponnese region, was brought under control after a two-day battle.

    Two more fires were doused on Saturday in Marathon, close to Mati, the coastal resort where in July last year 102 people died in Greece's worst fire disaster.

     Flames rise behind a farm as a wildfire burns near the village of Psachna, on the island of Evia
    Flames rise behind a farm as a wildfire burns near the village of Psachna on Evia [Costas Baltas/Reuters]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies