Uncontrolled wildfires have forced thousands of people to flee their homes on the Greek island of Evia after a blaze ripped through vast areas of pristine forest, with ferries on standby to evacuate those living nearby.
Residents described losing entire villages to the flames while the country’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said Greece had suffered a “nightmarish summer”.
The blaze on Evia, the second-largest Greek island in both area and population after Crete, quickly spread on several fronts.
Thousands of acres of forest across the northern part of the island were ablaze, forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages. More than 2,000 people have been evacuated since the fire broke out on Tuesday.
“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.”
A pregnant woman, who gave her name as Mina, said as she was boarding a rescue ferry at the town of Pefki: “[It’s] like a horror movie.
“But now this is not the movie, this is real life, this is the horror that we have lived with for the last week.”
Wildfires have erupted across many parts of Greece over the last week as the country sweltered in its worst heatwave in three decades.
Scorching temperatures and fierce winds have helped the fire spread rapidly with forests, homes and businesses destroyed.
Reports in the Greek media on Monday morning said valuables at a former royal estate north of Athens had been destroyed in the fires.
British firefighters landed in Greece on Sunday led by officers from Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service (MFRS).
Other firefighters are arriving from Lancashire, London, South Wales, West Midlands and the National Resilience Assurance Team.
MFRS’ chief fire officer Phil Garrigan said: “Our Greece counterparts are struggling to deal with the scale of the wildfires. These fires are devastating the communities and putting lives at risk and it is only right that we as a country assist.
“The team of 21 firefighters will offer professional and technical skills to our friends and colleagues in Greece at a time when they need us most.
“I have no doubt that our teams will do all they can to assist our colleagues in Greece, along with their communities, during these devastating wildfires.
“I am extremely proud that we and other Fire & Rescue Services from across the country have been able to step up and mobilise a team within 24 hours of the initial request.
“It is by no means a surprise – helping people is what we do and our desire to help will not be limited by borders.”
The deployment comes following a formal request to the National Fire Chiefs Council’s (NFCC) National Resilience team from the home secretary to give operational assistance to Greece.
Personnel and equipment from France, Germany, Egypt, Switzerland and Spain have also been offered.
More than 570 firefighters are battling the blaze in Evia in total, authorities said.
Over the past five days, the coastguard has evacuated more than 2,000 people, including many elderly residents, from different parts of the island.
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 local TV. More than 2,500 people have been accommodated in hotels and other shelters, he said.
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.
On Saturday, Mr Mitsotakis visited the fire department's headquarters in Athens and expressed his ”deep sadness“ for a firefighter's death.
He later visited the city’s airport, where firefighting planes have taken off from, and thanked Greek and French pilots involved in the operation.
”When this nightmarish summer has passed, we will turn all our attention to repairing the damage as fast as possible, and in restoring our natural environment again,“ he said.
The causes of the fires are still under investigation but three people were arrested on Friday on suspicion of starting blazes, in two cases intentionally.
Countries across southern Europe, from Spain and Italy to the Balkans, Greece and Turkey, have been affected by wildfires in recent weeks.
Massive fires have also been burning across Siberia in northern Russia, and in the US, hot and windy weather has fueled wildfires in California.
Additional reporting by agencies
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