Greece counts cost as wildfire on island slowly comes under control

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EDIPSOS (Greece) • Nearly 900 firefighters were slowly bringing a wildfire that has raged for nine days on the Greek island of Evia under control, the authorities said yesterday, while fresh forces were deployed to fight a massive blaze on the Peloponnese peninsula.

Greece has started to count the cost from wildfires that scorched thousands of hectares, leaving three people dead and hundreds homeless, causing incalculable damage and capsizing the critical tourism season.

The fires were fanned by the country's most severe heatwave in decades and the authorities have pointed the finger at climate change, which experts say increases the intensity and frequency of such extreme weather events.

A huge multinational force has been deployed to back fire crews on Evia, where the town of Istiaia has been under threat for days.

"I think we can say that the fire fronts are slowly coming under control," Istiaia Mayor Yiannis Kontzias told state TV ERT. "Yesterday we saw the light of the sun for the first time in days," he said, referring to giant smoke clouds that have choked residents and obstructed flights by water-bombing aircraft.

But even as the immediate danger recedes, Mr Kontzias said local businesses "face extinction" in the coming months in a tourism season already decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We have lost the month of August, which would have sustained people here over the coming year. (Local) tourism has been demolished, most (visitors) have left," he said. "The damage is huge, and the environmental disaster will have economic repercussions for decades."

Since July 29, more than 93,000 ha has been burnt in Greece, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2021, with the headline Greece counts cost as wildfire on island slowly comes under control. Subscribe