Thousands of people have fled their homes on the Greek island of Evia as wildfires burned uncontrolled for a sixth day on Sunday, and ferries were on standby for more evacuations after taking many to safety by sea.
Fires that had threatened northern suburbs of Athens in recent days died back. But the blaze on Evia, a large island east of the capital, quickly burgeoned into several fronts, ripping through thousands of hectares (acres) of pristine forest across its northern part, and forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages.
“I feel angry. I lost my home … nothing will be the same the next day,” said one resident who gave her name as Vasilikia after boarding a rescue ferry at the village of Psaropouli.
“It’s a disaster. It’s huge. Our villages are destroyed, there is nothing left from our homes, our properties, nothing, nothing,” she said.
Wildfires have erupted in many parts of the country during a week long heatwave, Greece’s worst in three decades, with searing temperatures and hot winds creating tinder-box conditions. Across the country, forest land has burned and dozens of homes and businesses have been destroyed.
“Fiery destruction,” newspaper To Vima said on its front page on Sunday.
The coastguard has evacuated more than 2,000 people, including many elderly residents, from different parts of the island since Tuesday, in dramatic sea rescues as the night sky turned an apocalyptic red.
Others fled their villages on foot overnight, walking along roads dotted with trees in flames.
“A house is burning over here,” one woman told emergency crews on the ground in the settlement of Vasilika, pointing to a searing fire in the distance.
“Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere,” one of the firefighters replied.
The governor for central Greece, Fanis Spanos, said the situation in the north of the island had been “very difficult” for nearly a week.
“The fronts are huge, the area of burned land is huge,” he told Skai TV. More than 2,500 people have been accommodated in hotels and other shelters, he said.
Greece has deployed the army to help battle the fires and several countries including France, Egypt, Switzerland and Spain have also sent help including firefighting aircraft.
More than 570 firefighters are battling the blaze in Evia, where two active fronts were burning in the north and south of the island.
Greece’s deputy civil protection minister, Nikos Hardalias, said water-bombing aircraft in the region faced several hurdles including low visibility caused by the thick plumes of smoke rising over the mountains and turbulence.
“We have ahead of us another difficult evening, another difficult night,” Hardalias told an emergency briefing. “The battle continues.”
A fire in the foothills of Mount Parnitha north of Athens has been contained but weather conditions meant there was still a high threat it could flare up again.
On Friday night, strong winds pushed the fire into the town of Thrakomakedones, where residents had been ordered to evacuate. The blaze left burnt and blackened houses and cars among scorched pine trees.
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