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Greece Battles 4 Major Wildfires; Hotels, Homes Evacuated

ATHENS — Greece’s fire service was fighting four major fires across the country Saturday, including one where they had to evacuate over 450 people at an island holiday resort.

A fire that broke at Saturday morning on the island of Lesbos prompted authorities to call for the evacuation of the Vatera resort on the island’s southern side. The fire came very close to the resort and at least one house was engulfed by the flames.

But more than five hours after an emergency message was sent by phone to residents, the evacuation was still “ongoing,” fire service spokesman Yannis Artopoios told reporters. He said 50 firefighters with 17 fire engines, nine special firefighting planes and one helicopter are fighting the blaze.

People fill buckets with water during a forest fire near the beach resort of Vatera, on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, Greece, Saturday, July 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Panagiotis Balaskas)

Local police said Saturday afternoon they had evacuated over 450 people from two hotels and 92 houses and that 60 officers were scouring the area for anyone that refused to move.

Greece’s biggest fire Saturday was burning in the northeast near the border with Τurkey for the third day running, inside a national forest that is the home to rare species, especially vultures. The Dadia national forest is mostly made up of highly flammable pine trees.

A firefighter sprays water on a damaged house during a forest fire near the beach resort of Vatera, on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, on Saturday, July 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Panagiotis Balaskas)

The fire service said 320 firefighters in 68 fire engines, plus 6 special planes, 9 helicopters and numerous volunteers were fighting the fire, while another 200 lumberjacks were cutting firebreak paths through the forest.

Two more major fires were burning Saturday, one in a remote mountainous area in the region of Western Macedonia and another in the southern Peloponnese region, Artopoios said.

Firefighting aircrafts load water from the sea during a forest fire near the beach resort of Vatera, on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, on Saturday, July 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Panagiotis Balaskas)

The European Union gave Greece’s forest service 72 million euros this year to help maintain forests and clear them to prevent fires from spreading.

Greece, unlike other areas in Europe, has so far avoided a heat wave this summer but temperatures have been rising. The country’s hot, dry summers and strong winds have combined with the longer-term effects of climate change to increase the overall risk of forest fires.

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