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Greece fires leave hundreds families homeless

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GREEK firefighters, volunteers strive to put out devastating wildfires near Athens. / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PEFKOFYTO, Greece (AFP) — Hundreds of firefighters fought fires that have devoured record numbers of woodlands in Greece on Saturday and left hundreds of families homeless.

More than 1,450 Greek firefighters backed by at least 15 aircraft were battling the blazes, with reinforcements arriving from abroad, the fire service said.

Civil Protection deputy minister, Nikos Hardalias said Saturday that 55 blazes were raging across Greece.

They were burning on Evia, the country’s second largest island, which lies east of the capital; in the Peloponnese region in the southwest; and in Fthiotida in Central Greece.

The fire front on Evia alone ran a length of 30 kilometers, said Fanis Spanos, regional governor of Central Greece.

On the north of the island, another 23 were evacuated Saturday morning after 1,300 were plucked off the beaches by ferry boats the night before. Navy warships were on high alert off the coast in case more evacuations are required.

In the last 10 days, 56,655 hectares have been burnt in Greece, according to the European Forest Fire Information System. The average number of hectares burnt over the same period between 2008 and 2020 was 1,700 hectares.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that he had spoken with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis about the crisis and that France had deployed 80 firefighters and rescue workers as well as three Canadair firefighting planes.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted Saturday that Britain is sending “a team of experienced firefighters to support Greek firefighters.

Egypt is also expected to send two helicopters and Spain one Canadair plane.

Like Greece, Turkey has been fighting devastating fires for more than a week as the region suffers its worst heatwave in decades.

There have been over 200 fires in 47 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli tweeted Saturday. Thirteen of those fires in five provinces were still burning.

So far, the fires have killed two people in Greece and eight in Turkey, with dozens more hospitalized there over 10 days.

Officials in the coastal city of Antalya said the blazes were under control in the southwestern province after rainfall.

Heavy rain was expected till afternoon in areas including Manavgat, one of the most affected by the fires.

The situation remained serious however around the tourist hotspot of Mugla, where at least three neighborhoods have been ordered to evacuate.

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