THEA — Hundreds of Greek and Polish firefighters were battling a major wildfire decimating a pine forest for a fourth day Thursday northwest of the Greek capital.
The fire near the village of Vilia, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Athens, has already burned through thousands of hectares and led to evacuation orders being issued for several villages in the area. Strong winds forecast for later in the day could complicate firefighting efforts.
The fire department said 427 firefighters, including 143 from Poland, along with 149 vehicles were battling the flames. Five water-dropping planes and five helicopters were providing air support, while the army sent manpower and machinery.
The blaze burned several houses and summer homes in and near the nearby village of Thea, including the home of local resident Nikolaos Loanas.
"This house that burned to the ground is mine. I've had it for about 40 to 45 years and it was built through hardship, with a lot of effort, sweat and stress," he said. "It was 45 years' worth of memories. …. My wife and I moved here when we were young, my two children grew up here, played here, had fun here, my three granddaughters liked it here."
The Vilia blaze is the latest of hundreds of wildfires that have burned across Greece this month, fueled by a heat wave — the country's most severe in about three decades — that parched shrubland and forests.
The blazes have stretched the country's firefighting capabilities to the limit, leading the government to appeal for international help, including through a European Union emergency response system. About 24 European and Middle Eastern countries responded, sending planes, helicopters, vehicles and hundreds of firefighters. Most have since returned home.
"The situation we are facing is unprecedented for the country," government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said during a press briefing. "The fight we are waging on this front is threefold: extinguishing the fires, preventing new outbreaks, and repairing damage and compensating those affected."
The causes of the fires have not been officially established, although more than a dozen people have been arrested on suspicion of arson.
Intense heat and wildfires have also struck other Mediterranean countries. Firefighters in France worked to contain a forest fire along the French Riviera on Tuesday, and recent wildfires have killed at least 75 people in Algeria and 16 in Turkey. Worsening drought and heat have also fueled wildfires in the western United States and in Russia's northern Siberia region.