Greece – Massive wildfires raged out of control across Greece on Thursday,after killing three people overnight in the south, burning through villages andforests and stretching firefighting services to the limit.
Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for help in tackling the fires, and Putin telephoned to say would send firefighting planes on Friday, the prime minister’s office said. It did not give details on how many Russian aircraft would be sent.
Greece was facing “a particularly difficult situation … due to the simultaneous appearance of a large number of forest fires and unprecedented weather conditions,” Karamanlis’ office said in a statement.
More fires were burning across other European countries, from Italy to Slovakia, though there was some respite as the region’s second summer heat wave began to subside.
In Greece, three elderly people were killed overnight in a blaze that consumed homes outside the town of Aegio in the south, including a farmer who stayed behind to save his flock of sheep after residents fled his village, authorities said.
About 30 villages came under threat, while residents told television stations that 50-60 homes were destroyed. Helicopters were called in Wednesday to airlift people to safety.
Greece’s firefighting service said it was battling 15 major blazes raging out of control across the country Thursday, including on the holiday islands of Chios and Cephallonia, where flames threatened a mountain nature reserve home to a rare native breed of ponies.
A wildfire burns near houses in Mavriki in southern Greece on Wednesday. Many thousands of acres of forest land have been torched in Greece. The fires ignited in tinderbox conditions worsened by last winter’s extended drought.( Photo: STR/AP)
The country’s most dangerous fire was near Aegio, in thenorthern Peloponnese, where one front stretched across 25 miles, authoritiessaid. Five areas in the region declared emergencies, while local authoritiessaid houses in nine villages were destroyed. Aegio’s school was turned into firevictims’ reception center.
About 330 firefighters and soldiers, assisted by 42 firetrucks and two helicopters, were tackling the blaze, the fire department said.
Another blaze broke out near Porto Rafti, a seaseideresort east of Athens, but was quickly brought under control, they said.
With so many fires, firefighting services were stretched,and desperate residents appealed in radio call-in programs for help in tacklingblazes near their homes. Authorities have fast-tracked the hiring of more than1,000 additional firefighters in an effort to cope with the seemingly relentlessassault of wildfires.
To the north in Serbia, several fires were destroyinghundreds of acres of forest and shrubland. A Russian firefighting plane andSerbian military planes were called in to join firefighting efforts, policespokesman Predrag Maric said.
In Bosnia, several small fires spiraled out of control,and a state of emergency was declared Thursday in the southeast town of Stolac.Firefighters were confronted with a 37-mile-long line of fire that developedfrom 12 smaller fires during the day, officials said.
Several villages were evacuated, while army helicoptersand firefighters from other cities were called in. In the eastern Bosnian cityof Visegrad, near the Serbian border, 200 firefighters were tackling a fireburning out of control.
Neighboring Croatia recorded about 800 forest fires inJuly alone, which firefighters said was more than any summer in the past decade.On Thursday, a fire still raged on the southern island of Solta, sendingtourists fleeing. Firefighters were also battling several blazes across theCroatian coast.
A forest fire burning since Sunday in eastern Slovakiawas being tackled by more than 50 firefighters and two helicopters, and wasstill not under control, the local TASR news agency said.
In Italy, fires continued in the Calabria region, butwere under control in the southeastern region of Puglia. The superintendent ofthe Pollino National Park in Calabria, Domenico Pappaterra, said “thesituation remains very dramatic, especially in the high region of thepark.”
Pappaterra said another fire had broken out in the townof Morano Calabro, but said no injuries had been reported. The offices ofProvince of Cosenza alone had received reports of fires from 18 towns.
In Greece and Italy, officials have blamed some fires onarson motivated by attempts to clear land for development. Greece is the only EUcountry without a nationwide land registry, meaning fire-damaged forests have tobe re-designated as protected areas.
But soaring temperatures from the region’s second heatwave in as many months have also contributed to the fires by leaving vastswathes of the region parched.
Temperatures began to dip on Thursday, falling from 113°Fto a predicted high of 102°F in Athens. The heat also abated in Serbia, withthermometers registering about 86°F.