At least 150 houses were destroyed by a violent blaze that surrounded a monastery and a dozen villages on the Greek island of Evia on Wednesday, just one of some 40 fires raging in the heatwave-hit country.
Firefighters were also battling a blaze near Athens, while flames threatened Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games where the mayor pleaded for back-up.
On Evia, huge flames leapt up from the forest, visible from afar in what firefighters said was a difficult blaze to control on an island of rolling hills with little visibility.
Three monks from Saint David Monastery had refused to leave, firefighters said, adding that everyone else had been evacuated from the villages nearby.
“The flames are 30 to 40 metres (100 to 130 feet) high and surrounding the monastery. We’re suffocating due to the smoke,” one of the monks told the ANA news agency by phone.
Police told AFP they would force the monks to evacuate if their life was in danger.
Locals had gathered on a beach and were due to be evacuated by boat, while 100 firefighters, two helicopters and four water-bombing planes were mobilised.
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But Dimitris Vourdanos, deputy governor of the region, said that “we are completely unable to intervene by air or by land”.
“There are two main fronts which are uncontrollable and several other smaller ones,” he told the Kathimerini newspaper.
The deputy mayor of the small town of Mantoudi said there were “at least 150 houses burnt”.
Firefighters and local residents try to extinguish the flames during a wildfire in Adames area, in northern Athens, Greece (AP photo)
ACRID SMOKE OVER ATHENS
According to deputy minister for civil protection Nikos Hardalias, around 40 blazes are raging in Greece as a severe heatwave hits the country, with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
Evia island is some 200 kilometres (125 miles) away from Athens, where more than 500 firefighters, a dozen water-bombing planes and five helicopters battled another wildfire on the outskirts of the city.
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The blaze started on Tuesday in a pine forest at the foot of Mount Parnitha, one of three ranges that surround the Greek capital, sending plumes of dark, acrid smoke over Athens and leaving carcasses of burnt-out houses in its wake.
Around a dozen houses have been destroyed in the flames, and dozens of businesses, bars and holiday accommodation have been severely damaged in the suburb of Varympompi, 30 kilometres (20 miles) northwest of Athens, officials said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the blaze was coming under control, Hardalias said.
Authorities in Athens have recommended residents stay indoors and wear a mask to protect against the ash and smoke.
Burned vehicles after a wildfire in Varibobi area, northern Athens, Greece (AP photo)
Over in Olympia, around 100 firefighters were battling the blaze, aided by three helicopters and two planes.
Culture Minister Lina Mendoni is due to go there to evaluate the risks to the ancient site.
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But Olympia mayor Giorgos Georgopoulos called for back-up on television. “We need more aerial support,” he said.
The European Union’s crisis management commissioner said it would help, and Cyprus and Sweden were both sending two water-bombing planes to help battle the fires.
Neighbouring Turkey is also suffering its worst fires in at least a decade, claiming the lives of eight people and forcing hundreds to evacuate in southern areas popular with tourists.
Experts have warned that global warming is increasing both the frequency and intensity of such fires.
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