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Wildfires Rage Through Greece As Thousands Are Evacuated

Smoke from wildfire spreads Sunday over the statue of Poseidon, ancient Greek God of the sea, at Pefki village on Evia island, about 118 miles north of Athens.
Smoke from wildfire spreads Sunday over the statue of Poseidon, ancient Greek God of the sea, at Pefki village on Evia island, about 118 miles north of Athens.

The fires that have been raging in Greece for nearly a week show no signs of stopping.

Three large fires are currently burning throughout the country. The biggest is on Greece's second-largest island, the tourist destination Evia, where thousands have already been evacuated. Many more continued to queue in lines on the northern part of the island Sunday, waiting to board ferries.

"We have before us another difficult afternoon, another difficult night," Civil Protection Deputy Minister Nikos Hardalias said on Sunday. "All the forces that have been fighting a difficult battle all these days will continue operating with unabated intensity, with the same self-sacrifice."

The fire has destroyed dozens of homes and businesses, and is annihilating pristine forests. The government has ordered the evacuation of four villages in northern Evia. This includes the village of Pefki, which had been used as an area of refuge for people already displaced by the fire.

One fire official told a local newspaper that the fires were so intense, the water from hoses and aircraft was evaporating before reaching the inferno, Agence France-Presse reports.

Another large fire is burning in the southern Peloponnese peninsula near Ancient Olympia, and one is burning in the central region of Fokida, north of Athens. Dozens of smaller fires are also raging throughout the country. The fires have led to two confirmed deaths, including a volunteer firefighter who died near Athens after being struck by a falling utility pole affected by the fire, according to The Associated Press.

With its emergency responders overwhelmed, Greece has requested assistance from countries near and far. Several countries have already sent aircraft and firefighters, including France, Israel, Romania, Spain and the United States. The Navy Times reports that the U.S. Navy sent a reconnaissance plane late last week to assist efforts.

Flames approaching Gouves village on the island of Evia, about 115 miles north of Athens, on Sunday.
Petros Karadjias / AP
Flames approaching Gouves village on the island of Evia, about 115 miles north of Athens, on Sunday.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis thanked countries for their help Sunday. "On behalf of the Greek people, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to all the countries that have sent assistance and resources to help fight the wildfires," Mitsotakis said on Twitter.

The fires started after the longest heatwave the country has seen in three decades, which kept temperatures around 113 degrees Fahrenheit for several days, and led to dry conditions. Mitsotakis said the fires are linked to "the reality of climate change."

Greece is not the only country on fire. Amid a record heat wave, wildfires are also raging in Turkey, Lebanon and Italy. In Turkey, more than 500 square miles of coastal forest have been torched, and eight people have been killed. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated there.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.