THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities evacuated another five villages near the northeastern border with Turkey on Sunday where a large summer wildfire that has already destroyed several homes over the weekend drew dangerously close.
There were no reports of serious injuries to firefighters or residents from the forest blaze near the town of Alexandroupolis, that forced the evacuation of another eight villages Saturday.
Strong winds whipped on the flames, and civil protection authorities warned of an “extreme” fire risk Monday in the region around the capital, Athens, and other parts of southern Greece.
Some 200 firefighters, assisted by 16 water-dropping aircraft, volunteers and police, were battling the blaze near Alexandroupolis.
Local authorities said about half a dozen outlying houses and outbuildings were badly damaged in two of the evacuated villages, as well as a church. Sections of a major highway were closed for a second day as smoke reduced visibility, while Alexandroupolis residents were advised to keep their windows shut.
Greece’s minister for civil protection, Vassilis Kikilias, said Sunday that firefighters, police, army personnel and volunteers were “waging an intense battle” in the Alexandroupolis area, and called for extreme public vigilance throughout the country Monday.
“No outdoors work that could trigger a fire will be permitted,” he said. “We must all protect our country.”
Across the border in Turkey, the governor of Erdine province declared Sunday that the border crossing at Ipsala had been closed until further notice due to the fires.
Greece suffers destructive wildfires every summer, which officials said have been exacerbated by climate change. European Union officials have blamed climate change for the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires in Europe, noting that 2022 was the second-worst year for wildfire damage on record after 2017.
The deadliest Greek wildfire on record killed 104 people in 2018, in a seaside resort near Athens that residents had not been warned to evacuate. Since then, authorities have been erring on the side of caution, issuing swift mass evacuation orders whenever inhabited areas are under threat.
Last month a large wildfire on the resort island of Rhodes forced the evacuation of some 20,000 tourists. Days later, two air force pilots were killed when their water-dropping plane crashed while diving low to tackle a blaze on the island of Evia. Another three wildfire-related deaths have been recorded this summer.
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