Thousands of people have fled their homes on the Greek island of Evia as wildfires burned uncontrolled for a sixth day on Sunday, and ferries were on standby for more evacuations after taking many to safety by sea.
This comes as a firefighting plane crashed during an emergency landing on the Greek island of Zakynthos on Sunday while it was on its way to a small-scale blaze there, a police official said.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known and the pilot escaped without serious injury, the official said.
The blaze on Evia, Greece’s second-biggest island, quickly burgeoned into several fronts, ripping through thousands of hectares (acres) of pristine forest across its northern part, and forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages.
The flames engulfed homes in five villages but the full extent of the damage was not immediately known.
“(It’s) like a horror movie,” a 38-year-old pregnant evacuee who gave her name as Mina, told Reuters after she boarded a rescue ferry at the town of Pefki, where falling ash covered the port.
“But now this is not the movie, this is real life, this is the horror that we have lived with for the last week,” she said.
Wildfires have broken out in many parts of the country during a week-long heatwave, Greece’s worst in three decades, with searing temperatures and hot winds creating tinder-box conditions. Across the country, forest land has burned and dozens of homes and businesses have been destroyed.
Since Tuesday, the coastguard has evacuated more than 2,000 people, including many elderly residents, from different parts of Evia, which is linked to the mainland by bridge, in dramatic sea rescues as the night sky turned an apocalyptic red.
Others fled their villages on foot overnight, walking along roads dotted with trees in flames.
Greece has deployed the army to help battle the fires and several countries including France, Egypt, Switzerland and Spain have also sent help including firefighting aircraft.
More than 570 firefighters are battling the blaze in Evia, where two active fronts were burning in the north and south of the island.
Greece’s deputy civil protection minister, Nikos Hardalias, said emergency crews were undertaking “superhuman efforts” against multiple fronts.
“The night ahead will be difficult,” he said during an emergency briefing late on Sunday. Earlier, he said water-bombing aircraft in the region faced several hurdles including low visibility caused by the thick plumes of smoke rising over the mountains and turbulence.
A fire in the foothills of Mount Parnitha that swept through suburbs north of Athens had been contained but weather conditions meant there was still a high threat it could flare up again.
PM pledges forest regeneration and thanks countries for assistance:
All burned woodlands will be designated as areas that will be reforested, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pledged on Saturday.
Speaking to reporters, he said that regenerating the environment destroyed by the devastating wildfires across the country will be a top government priority.
“We will change the way we launch protection projects, anti-flood and anti-erosion works, but also the way we do reforestation,” he said.
This comes after reports emerged on social media that a 2,500 olive tree on Evia island has been destroyed by fire.
Early this morning, Mitsotakis also took to Twitter to thank people “for standing by Greece during these trying times.”
“On behalf of the Greek people, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to all the countries that have sent assistance and resources to help fight the wildfires,” he wrote.