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December 14, 2019
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Wildfire rages across Evia

Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire burning near the village of Makrymalli on the island of Evia, northeast of Athens, Tuesday. The fire brigade was expected to keep working through the night to keep the flames away from homes in the area.

A huge environmental disaster was unfolding Tuesday in central parts of the island of Evia, where a large wildfire was raging over a front stretching up to 12 kilometers, with the country’s civil protection authority declaring a state of emergency.

The fire was out of control late last night near the villages of Makrymalli, Kontodespoti, Platania and Stavros, which were evacuated, as was a monastery. The blaze also destroyed one of Greece’s 19 Natura 2000 nature reserves.

The region’s roughly 500 residents had already been evacuated by noon Tuesday, some on police buses and others using their own vehicles.

According to the fire service, there were no reports of serious damage to homes up until late Tuesday. However, firefighters were expected to work through the night to keep flames away from homes, mainly in Makrymalli.

More than 220 firefighters battled the blaze along with at least 75 fire engines, including truck-mounted water tanks, as well as six water-dropping planes, six helicopters, volunteers and soldiers.

Greece called on the European civil protection organization for assistance while Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who cut short his summer vacation to visit the fire department’s main coordination center, said four firefighting planes were being sent from Croatia and Italy.

“The conditions today are exceptionally difficult,” said Mitsotakis, who thanked firefighters for their efforts, adding that the government’s main concern was protecting human life.

For his part, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said that Brussels was mobilizing its rescEU mechanism in response to the wildfires.

“The EU stands by Greece at this difficult time,” Stylianides tweeted. He is to arrive in Athens Wednesday and is expected to meet Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis.

The bloc’s rescEU program is designed to enlist the help of member-states to respond to wildfires and other natural disasters.

Last night, the European Union’s Copernicus satellite-based Earth observation network was activated to map the areas affected by the fire in detail.

According to the civil protection authority, the fire broke out at 3.16 a.m. in the Agrilitsa area near the Monastery of Panagia Makrymallis.

Powerful winds, reaching up to seven Beaufort helped the fire spread quickly through dense pine forest.

By late last night, however, the winds had weakened and the spread of the fire had slowed.

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