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Greece battles fierce wildfires amid heatwave, as experts warn worst yet to come

Temperatures set to rise to 107 degrees during 10-day period; fires rage throughout country, including in Lesbos; more than 1,000 acres of woodland burned in one blaze

Residents look at fire burning trees near the houses at Vatera coastal resort on the eastern island of Lesbos on July 23, 2022. (Manolis LAGOUTARIS / AFP)
Residents look at fire burning trees near the houses at Vatera coastal resort on the eastern island of Lesbos on July 23, 2022. (Manolis LAGOUTARIS / AFP)

ATHENS — Greece on Sunday battled three major wildfires across the country which forced hundreds to evacuate, as soaring temperatures raised fears of further blazes.

The country is in the grip of a heatwave that began on Saturday and is expected to last 10 days. Temperatures were set to rise to 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) in some regions.

Experts blame climate change for the soaring temperatures and warned that the worst is yet to come.

Fires raged in the north, east and south of Greece, including on the island of Lesbos.

Officials ordered the evacuation of around 200 people on Sunday afternoon from the Vryssa village on Lesbos as flames crept closer, some 500 meters (1,600 feet) from houses, the deputy mayor of western Lesbos told Skai radio.

Elderly women carried plastic bags with only a few personal belongings as they boarded the first buses to leave the village.

Smoke ascends over the village of Vrisa, in the southern part of the Greek island of Lesbos, as the wildfire burn near tourist resorts for the second day, forcing vunerable residents to flee on July 24, 2022. (Anthi PAZIANOU / AFP)

Thick clouds of smoke were already engulfing the first houses of Vryssa.

Early in the afternoon, the village of Stavros was also evacuated.

The blaze broke out a day earlier, causing the evacuation of hundreds of tourists and residents from the beachside village of Vatera. At least four houses were destroyed in Vatera, state TV ERT reported, and fires damaged an unknown number of shops, hotels and beach bars in the village.

Dozens of firefighters early on Sunday struggled to control the blaze, with four water-dropping planes and two helicopters in operation.

In the northeastern region of Evros, a wildfire was ablaze for a fourth day in Dadia National Park, known for its black vulture colony.

A helicopter takes part in a search and rescue operation near the eastern Aegean Sea island of Samos after a firefighting helicopter crashed into the sea, Greece, July 13, 2022. (Michael Svarnias/AP)

The fire has already destroyed nearly 500 hectares (1,220 acres) of woodland.

More than 300 firefighters battled to control the fire in Evros and by late Saturday the thick smoke forced the evacuation of the village of Dadias.

It was unclear how many people were evacuated.

“The most important thing for us is the safety of the villagers and all forces [which] will be deployed there,” Evros governor Dimitris Petrovits told Athens News Agency.

The fire had already passed the raptor birds observatory and was closing in on the buildings of the protected area management unit.

Petrovits said collecting and treating injured animals was a high priority for the authorities.

Fire burns next to houses in the area of Drafi east of Athens on July 20, 2022 (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

In the Peloponnese, a southern peninsula, a fire that broke out early Saturday forced the evacuation of Chrysokelaria village.

By midday on Sunday, firefighters had managed to contain the fire.

A wildfire in mountains near Athens on Wednesday also damaged homes and forced hundreds of people to evacuate after gale-force winds earlier in the week.

Greece’s worst wildfire disaster killed 102 people in 2018 in the coastal suburb of Mati, east of Athens.

The latest fires come after a heatwave and wildfires last year destroyed 103,000 hectares and claimed three lives in Greece.

Fires in parts of France, Spain and Portugal have already burned more land so far this year than was destroyed by flames in all of 2021.

The area, some 517,881 hectares, is equivalent to the size of Trinidad and Tobago.

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