Dozens try to flee as forest blazes escalate

Greek firefighters battled large bush and forest fires on the outskirts of Athens and in Greece’s southern Peloponnese region, where flames forced the evacuation of at least three villages and two summer camps.

Dozens try to flee as forest blazes escalate

Strong winds fanned the forest fire in the Lakonia area, on the tip of the Peloponnese. A coast guard vessel and other boats were attempting to evacuate scores of people trapped on a beach by the fire, but those rescue efforts were being hampered by rough seas.

Local media reported two summer camps and a health centre in the seaside town of Neapoli had been evacuated.

One of the seven fire- fighting planes battling the Lakonia fire had to make an emergency landing, and its two pilots were being transferred to a local hospital for first aid. They were not seriously hurt.

Two helicopters, 120 firefighters and nearly 30 soldiers were fighting the blaze.

In Athens, a large bush fire burned across Ymittos hill on the capital’s outskirts. Strong winds were helping the flames devour parts of the verdant hillside popular with day-trippers. More than 70 firefighters were battling the blaze, along with local volunteers.

Firefighters were also battling a smaller blaze in Koropi, near Athens, and another on the island of Evia, east of the capital.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras said Greece has requested help from his country’s army and air force, as well as the European emergency response centre.

Two water-dropping planes had taken off from the country’s second largest city of Thessaloniki in the north to assist with the Athens blaze, he said.

“All forces are on alert,”he said, noting that the hot, dry and windy conditions made firefighting more difficult.

Forest and bush fires are common during Greece’s hot, dry summers. In 2007, massive forest fires ravaged the south, devastating dozens of villages and killing about 60 people.

“The situation is difficult,” said Michalis Karagiannis, deputy mayor of Vyronas, one of the suburbs near the flames.

Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who spoke to Greek TV from the scene with a protective mask across his face, said: “We are all making an effort to stop the worst.”

He was heckled by angry residents who accused him of doing “micro politics” and urged him to “take off your jacket and help”.

Separately, wildfires burned through rural land on the island of Evia near Athens and in the region of Laconia in the Peloponnese.

State television reported the fire’s front was over 15km long. “Things are very bad,” Peloponnese governor Petros Tatoulis told state television. “The situation is critical. We are working to prevent casualties.”

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