ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A massive wildfire that destroyed vast tracts of forest in northeastern Greece over 17 days was in abeyance on Monday, although hundreds of firefighters were still tackling pockets that continued to burn, the fire department said.
Authorities also warned that parts of the country were at risk of flooding due to heavy rainstorms forecast overnight and on Tuesday that could pose a particular threat to fire-ravaged areas.
Reinforcements were sent over the weekend to battle the wildfire burning in the Evros region near the border with Turkey, bringing the total number of firefighters on Monday to 741, backed by 124 vehicles and two aircraft. The blaze has been blamed for the deaths of 20 people, all believed to have been migrants who had recently crossed the border.
“There is no active front in the Evros area right now,” Greece’s minister for civil protection, Vassilis Kikilias, said. “We remain on alert, and the battle obviously continues.”
The fire, which broke out on Aug. 19 near the northeastern city of Alexandroupolis and joined with other blazes to form one massive wildfire, burned more than 93,000 hectares (230,000 acres) of land by Sunday, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service, making it the largest single blaze to hit an EU country since records began in 2000.
Wildfires are common in Greece and other southern European countries during their hot, dry summers. Dozens of fires have been breaking out each day across the country for weeks, with the fire department saying its forces tackled 82 wildfires between Sunday afternoon and Monday afternoon, with 51 of them having broken out in those 24 hours.
Another fire broke out Monday in woodland on the northern outskirts of Athens. More than 70 firefighters, including 18 from France, backed by two airplanes and three helicopters, managed to bring the blaze under partial control within hours, the fire department said.
It said a man was arrested on suspicion of causing the fire through negligence.
With its firefighting forces stretched to the limit, Greece appealed for help from other European countries and has received hundreds of firefighters, as well as a fleet of planes and helicopters, from across the continent. On Sunday, forces from France, Spain, Cyprus, Romania, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Albania and Serbia were still operating in the country.
Heavy rainfall affected parts of Greece Monday, causing disruptions but no major flooding.
Kikilias, the civil protection minister, warned the rainstorms were expected to be intense and protracted.
“Our meteorologists say it will be an extreme natural phenomenon,” he said. “Special care is required from everyone.”