Greece–– THESSALONIKI, Greece – A large forest fire that broke out at a remote monastic community where women have not been allowed for a thousand years spread Thursday to a nearby resort area, forcing the evacuation of a seaside vacation village and sending up a thick pall of smoke over the area.
It was not clear how the fire started Wednesday on the Mount Athos peninsula, a World Heritage site and self-ruled community of Orthodox monks that bans women and even female animals from entering. There were no immediate reports of damage to the northern Greek peninsula’s 20 medieval monasteries, which visitors can only access by sea.
Firefighters managed to prevent the flames from sweeping through Ouranoupolis, a resort village north of the peninsula, on Thursday, although the fire damaged outlying building and elderly people and others were taken to a nearby beach as a precaution. The fire brigade said in a statement that 110 firefighters, assisted by water trucks, five water-dropping aircraft and two helicopters were trying to contain the blaze.
The fire brigade did not have an estimate of the extent of the burned area.
Greece is in the grips of a heat wave, and wildfires have been burning around the country. In the southern Peloponnese area, firefighters were trying to extinguish two big fires in the areas of Tripoli and Corinth that broke out on Tuesday and destroyed thousands of acres of forest and scrub. Officials said no inhabited areas were under threat, and the blazes seemed to be on the wane Thursday.
A 45-year-old Greek man was arrested and charged with accidentally starting the one fire, in the Tripoli area, which has been declared in a state of emergency.
Forest fires are common during Greece’s typically long, hot summers. In 2007, more than 60 people died in a series of huge blazes in the Peloponnese and central Greece.