Greece starts to count the cost after week of 'catastrophic' fires

The fires on Evia and elsewhere broke out during Greece's worst heatwave in three decades last week.
The fires on Evia and elsewhere broke out during Greece's worst heatwave in three decades last week.PHOTO: AFP

PEFKI (REUTERS) - Greek villagers who escaped devastating fires on the island of Evia have been counting the cost of the disaster, which destroyed their homes and crops and left them waiting for rescue with nothing to go back to.

"It burned everything, there's nothing left," said 77-year-old Makis Ladogiannakis, sitting in a cafe in the seaside town of Pefki, where a ferry waited to evacuate more locals and tourists to safety if needed, as in previous days.

"The fire was the biggest catastrophe for the village," he said. "People lived off resin production and the olive trees."

As fires burned unabated in many parts of the country for the seventh day, the biggest front was on Evia, Greece's second-biggest island located just off the mainland east of Athens.

Dozens of villages and thousands of people have had to be evacuated, while flames engulfed forests and homes in the island's north.

Strong winds on Monday (Aug 9) fuelled flare-ups on the island after appearing to ease earlier in the day. Water-bombing aircraft struggled to operate because of the large plumes of smoke blanketing the area, authorities said.

The fires on Evia and elsewhere broke out during Greece's worst heatwave in three decades last week, with searing temperatures and dry heat causing tinder box conditions.

Temperatures had cooled somewhat, but were forecast to rise again during the week, meaning the risk of flare-ups remained high.

"It's sad. All my childhood memories are burned right now,"said Richard Konstantine Allen, who lives in Athens but went back to try to save his property. "I used to run in this forest, to cycle to collect fruit, now everything is gone."

In Athens, officials began to assess the damage from a blaze which tore through several suburbs north of the city last week before beginning to recede on Saturday.

"Our aim is to complete the inventory as soon as possible, in order to immediately begin the process of compensating our affected fellow citizens," the ministry of infrastructure and transport said in a statement.

The blaze, which broke out on the foothills of Mount Parthina on the outskirts of the capital, sent thousands of people fleeing and damaged homes and businesses as well as thousands of hectares of forest land.

Greece has received assistance from a number of European countries to help battle the flames, and more than 600 firefighters tried to contain the fire on Evia on Monday.

More than 2,000 residents and tourists have been evacuated by ferry since last Tuesday.

Almost 1,000 firefighters, nine aircraft and 200 vehicles have been sent to Greece from other European countries to help with the wildfires. In addition, Greece said on Monday it was expecting two aircraft from Turkey and an additional plane from Russia.