Greek villages evacuated as forest fire rages

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Alepochori

More than a dozen Greek villages were evacuated on Friday as firefighters battled the country’s first major blaze of the year on a mountain range overlooking the Gulf of Corinth.

No injuries were reported, but “it will be a hard night… we’re fighting in difficult conditions,” junior civil protection minister Nikos Hardalias said.

People were evacuated before dawn from the first of 17 villages and hamlets affected after the fire broke out on Wednesday evening near the village of Schinos on the Gulf of Corinth, some 90 kilometres (56 miles) west of Athens, a fire service spokesman said.

“Hundreds of people” had been moved out in the action, which also covered two monasteries, Hardalias said, adding that around 20 square kilometres (eight square miles) of pine forest had been razed.

Additional evacuations were ordered on Friday afternoon after the fire crossed the rugged mountain range of Mount Gerania and headed for the coastal town of Megara, with authorities contacting residents by text message and with loudhailers.

“We’re on a war footing, we’re in a state of emergency,” mayor Grigoris Stamoulis told the ANA news agency, adding that “when the fire started, we had to keep an eye out because we couldn’t rule out the wind bringing the fire front here”.

The national observatory in Athens said smoke from the blaze had billowed over the capital and the Cycladic islands as far as Ikaria.

The health ministry recommended people limit physical activity and close doors and windows. Another fire broke out Thursday in Viotia, central Greece.—AFP