Greece wildfires: 2 new blazes break out amid strong winds

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece scrambled firefighting aircraft and ground forces Monday as at least two new blazes broke out in areas already scarred by wildfires this summer, with strong winds complicating the efforts to contain them.

The first broke out Monday morning in the southern part of Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, whose north was decimated earlier this month by a blaze that burned for more than 10 days. The second wildfire was burning in Kaza, in the Vilia area northwest of Athens where a major blaze was brought under control Friday after burning for five days.

Authorities issued an evacuation order for Vilia, 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Greek capital. Some residents hosed down their gardens and homes, hoping to save them, while police halted traffic on a nearby highway.

“A new major battle has begun,” regional governor Giorgos Patoulis told Open TV.

The fire department sent 167 firefighters, including 61 from Romania, as well as 60 vehicles, 13 helicopters and eight aircraft to fight the flames. Over the weekend, Greece kept hundreds of firefighters, backed up by helicopters and water-dropping planes, in the Vilia area to extinguish small flare-ups.

This month, which began with Greece’s most severe heat wave in about three decades, is quickly turning into one of the country’s most destructive fire seasons, with dozens of wildfires breaking out every day. Thousands of people have been forced to flee the flames, which have devoured forests, agricultural land, homes and businesses.

In Evia on Monday, the fire department said it had contained a blaze that broke out overnight in the southwest. The coast guard placed several boats and two ferries on standby in case a sea evacuation became necessary.

The causes of Greece’s wildfires haven’t yet been officially established, but more than a dozen people have been arrested on suspicion of arson. On Friday, Citizens Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis said a special prosecutor for organized crime was involved in the investigation.

Intense heat and wildfires have struck other Mediterranean countries. Recent wildfires have killed at least 75 people in Algeria and 16 in Turkey, while in southern France 1,200 firefighters have been struggling to contain a major blaze that has forced thousands to flee, killed two people and injured 26 others.

Worsening drought and heat have also fueled wildfires in the western United States and in Russia’s northern Siberia region.

Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme events.

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