Firefighting planes resume flights over Greek island blaze

By Elena Becatoros, Associated Press

Water-dropping planes and helicopters have resumed flights over a major wildfire burning through a protected nature reserve on the Greek island of Evia, where hundreds of people were evacuated from four villages and a monastery.

The aircraft were concentrating on areas where access to the dense pine forest was difficult by land.

More than 200 firefighters have been battling the wildfire, which broke out at around 3am on Tuesday. One volunteer firefighter was taken to hospital after suffering burns.

The flames were fanned by strong winds, hampering efforts to control their spread and carrying smoke as far as the Greek capital, where the smell of burning wood lingered until late into Tuesday night.

A helicopter operates over a wildfire in Makrymalli village (Yorgos Karahalis/AP)

The nature reserve is part of the European Union’s Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

Milder winds are predicted for Wednesday, and the fire department said the situation appeared much improved from the previous day although the fire had still not been brought under control.

Authorities said there were two active fronts to the blaze, and there had been occasional flare-ups during the night.

A state of emergency was declared on Tuesday for the area affected by the fire, while Greece called on the European civil protection system for assistance, with Italy and Croatia pledging four firefighting planes.

Damage in Kontodespoti village (Michael Varaklas/AP)

Forest fires are common in Greece during the hot, dry summer months. Authorities have repeatedly warned the public not to engage in outdoor activities that could cause fires, such as welding work, burning weeds or lighting campfires and barbecues.

Parks and forest areas are closed to the public at times of high fire risk.

Last year, more than 100 people died when a fast-moving forest fire broke out in a seaside area north east of Athens and raged through a nearby settlement of mainly holiday homes.

The fire trapped people in their cars as they attempted to flee, while many others drowned as they tried to swim away from beaches overcome by heat and choking smoke.