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"Unprecedented": A massive forest fire decimates a Greek island

Residents and firefighters fought into the night Monday against a huge fire on Greece’s second-largest Island. This was despite the fact that the country had to endure what the prime minister called "a natural catastrophe of unprecedented proportions."

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"Unprecedented": A massive forest fire decimates a Greek island

Evia, an island with rugged forests and coves near the Greek mainland, was covered in smoke and ash that blocked the sun's rays and turned the sky orange. The most destructive fire in Greece since Aug. 3 is the worst. It has destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, and forced hundreds of people to evacuate quickly by sea.

The worst heat wave for Greece in 30 years has baked Greece. It sent temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius (113 F) and transformed its pine forests into bone-dry, tinderboxes.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitchells, in a nationally televised address, said that the destruction of Evia and other areas "blackens all's hearts". He also promised compensation to all those affected and a massive reforestation, regeneration, and restoration effort. He also apologized for any "shortcomings" in dealing with the emergency. This was a response to criticisms from officials and residents who claimed that Greece's firefighting equipment and efforts were woefully inadequate.

Mitsotakis stated that the last few days were among the most difficult for our country in many decades. "We are facing a natural catastrophe of unprecedented proportions."

Roads on the island were cut off by flames and residents and tourists fled to Evia's beaches, jetties and other safe areas to be transported to safety by a flotilla ferries and boats.

"We felt completely abandoned. After having travelled by ferry to the mainland, David Angelou said that there weren't any fire brigades or vehicles.

"You could feel the immense heat and there was also a lot smoke. He said that you could see the sun and a red ball. Then, there was nothing around."

Mitsotakis stated Monday that he understood the pain of those who have lost their homes or properties, as well as the anger of those seeking aerial assistance. However, Mitsotakis did not know if the firefighting aircraft were flying elsewhere or if conditions made it impossible to fly.

He urged Greeks to think about what they lost and what was saved by such a natural disaster.

Other large wildfires were still raging Monday in the southern Peloponnese area of Greece. Over the last week, hundreds have lost or been damaged in their homes and businesses, and at most 40,000 hectares (roughly 100,000 acres) of land have been set on fire. At least 17,000 households were affected by power cuts Monday.

Although the causes of the fires remain unsolved, several people were arrested for arson. The top prosecutor in Greece has ordered an investigation to determine if the fires are linked to criminal activity.

More than 20 countries from Europe and the Mideast responded to Greece's request for assistance, sending planes and helicopters, vehicles, and manpower.

Monday's tweet by the Greek Foreign Ministry stated that Turkey, Greece's historical regional rival, will send two firefighting aircrafts to help with wildfires. This was in response to a top envoy who said Turkey's wildfires were now under control.

The Greek authorities are still reeling from the 2018 wildfire that claimed more than 100 lives in Athens, and have taken steps to save lives by issuing evacuation orders. According to the coast guard, 2,770 people were evacuated by sea in Greece between July 31st and August 8.

Residents ignored orders to save their villages and started to spray their homes with garden hoses, as well as digging firebreaks.

Yiannis Katsikoyiannis from Crete, a volunteer who arrived in Evia to save his father's horse farm near Avgaria, said, "The villagers themselves are doing their best to save their own villages and the neighboring villages."

He said that if they had evacuated their villages as civil protection instructed them, everything would have burned down two days earlier. "Of course they never saw any water-dropping planes. They can't fly now because of the smoke.

Monday's fires raged across northern Evia, threatening more villages as 600 firefighters tried to control the inferno with the help of emergency teams from Ukraine and Serbia, 5 helicopters, and 5 water-dropping aircrafts.

Last week, one volunteer Greek firefighter was killed in Athens. Four others were admitted to the hospital Monday. Two of them were critically ill with severe burns.

Wildfires also erupted in South Italy, North Macedonia, and Montenegro. On Monday, a large fire in Malo Brdo, the capital Podgorica, was close to homes.

Authorities in Italy urged people to be cautious with fire during a heat wave that is forecast for this week. This is when many Italians are on summer vacation. Two firefighters have been killed in fighting fires in Calabria and Sicily for several weeks.

Fabrizio Curcio is the head of Italy's Civil Protection agency. He stated that "We have had to face very difficult and dramatic days fighting flames, and the forecast temperatures require the utmost attention." We ask for maximum cooperation and caution from citizens... to avoid any behavior which could set off a fire, and immediately report any smallest blaze.

Numerous wildfires erupted in North Macedonia as a result of the worst heat wave for decades. Monday saw at least eight wildfires still burning, most of them in remote areas that could not be reached by planes or helicopters. Five arsonists were arrested by authorities and thousands of acres of forest destroyed.

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