Firefighters battle wildfires on 2 Greek islands as premier warns of a dangerous summer

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Firefighters battled wildfires that broke out on the eastern Aegean islands of Chios and Kos Monday and injured five people, as Greece’s prime minister warned of a dangerous summer ahead and said the public’s help was essential in limiting the impact of wildfires.

Emergency services issued evacuation orders for those in the Metohi area of western Chios on Monday morning, urging them to head to a nearby beach. By the evening, more than 140 firefighters, along with eight teams of firefighters specializing in wildfires, seven water-dropping planes and three helicopters were fighting the blaze.

Fire department spokesman Vasilis Vathrakoyiannis said two firefighters had been lightly injured, while dozens more firefighters were heading to the island by boat from the nearby island of Lesbos and from Athens. State-run ERT television later reported that another two firefighters and a volunteer had suffered non life-threatening burns.

“The situation remains difficult in Chios, and all Civil Protection forces will make great efforts to limit it,” Vathrakoyiannis said during an evening briefing.

Another fire broke out further to the south in the Aegean, on the resort island of Kos, and by late Monday had forced the evacuation of several people, including tourists from hotels, as a precaution. That blaze was being tackled by more than 100 firefighters, including reinforcements sent from Athens, as well as six water-dropping planes and two helicopters, Vathrakoyiannis added.

In total, Greece saw 52 wildfires breaking out in the previous 24-hour period, 44 of which were tackled in the early stages, Vathrakoyiannis said. Authorities were still battling a total of eight fires by Monday evening.

The blazes come a day after the fire department managed to tame two large forest fires near Athens that had been fanned by strong winds.

“We have had an exceptionally difficult June regarding weather conditions, with high levels of drought and unusually strong winds for this season,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Monday during a Cabinet meeting. This year’s summer, he said, “is predicted to be particularly dangerous” for wildfires.

Mitsotakis said the use of drones as part of an early warning system for wildfires had been particularly useful this year and credited better coordination between authorities and volunteer firefighters for limiting the extent of fire damage so far.

“We are entering the tough core of the anti-fire period, and this will certainly not be won without the help of the public as well, particularly in the field of prevention,” Mitsotakis said.

Hot, dry weather combined with strong winds helped fan fires in both Greece and Turkey last month. This year’s summer is expected to be particularly prone to blazes following a particularly mild, dry winter. Last year, extensive wildfires in Greece killed more than 20 people.


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