State of emergency declared on Greece’s fire-stricken Evia island, 8 slightly injured

The central part of Greece’s Evia island was declared in state of emergency by local authorities on Tuesday as over 250 firemen were struggling to put under control a raging wildfire which so far has scorched forested areas and forced the evacuation of four villages, Greek national news agency AMNA reported.

Eight people have been slightly injured, according to local One TV Channel. So far the Fire Service has reported damages in houses and burned down cars in Makrymalli village, two hour’s drive northeast of Athens.

The blaze which broke out in the early hours of Tuesday had not been contained by sunset as firefighters’ efforts were hampered by strong winds up to 8 on the Beaufort scale blowing in the area.

Faced with the biggest challenge among hundreds of wildfires this summer, Greece has requested assistance from European partners.

The EU activated its emergency mechanism for disasters and Croatia and Italy were sending four Canadair firefighting planes which were expected to start operating on Wednesday morning, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said from the Fire Service’s Coordination Operations Center in Athens.

“Everything humanly possible is being done, anything that can be done. The state mechanism was fully activated and I wish that the weather will also help so that the situation will improve,” Mitsotakis told Greek national broadcaster ERT.

“Today we are giving a difficult battle against very harsh conditions. Our priority is to protect human lives, transfer people to safe places and protect their properties,” Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chysochoidis, added.

In Evia the blaze has destroyed among other forested zones part of a pine forest which was included in the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

Yorgis Sentemedis, a beekeeper from Kalamata in southern Greece, had several hives in this special forested area. He was unhappy more about the ecological disaster than the economic losses, he told Xinhua near the affected villages.

“Last year the area had suffered again from a wildfire, but this year not adequate measures for protection had been implemented. There were not enough patrols, nor fire protection zones created. It is a pity. Our children and grandchildren will never see this forest,” he said.

“I hope that we can get a lesson from all this and we manage to avert similar disasters in the future in other parts of Greece,” he added.

A total of 796 firefighters were deployed to tackle a total of 56 wildfires recorded across the country on Tuesday, the Fire Service said. Most were contained within a few hours.

The smoke from the burning forest land on Evia reached as far away as Athens with officials and experts warning the public, in particular vulnerable individuals to stay indoors.

Each summer Greece is suffering from destructive fires which are linked mainly to heat waves and arson. In July 2018 a wildfire which swept through a resort near Athens, resulting in 102 casualties.