| 8 February 2023, Wednesday |

Greek villagers try to save homes as fire crews brace for winds whipping flames

Residents are keeping vigil around the clock to try to rescue their homes from the wildfires that are scorching the Greek island of Evia, ignoring authorities’ advice to evacuate.

The fire department was bracing for a change in wind direction beginning Tuesday afternoon, which could result in more flare-ups on Greece’s second largest island, where fires had been blazing for an eighth day. Other fronts in the Peloponnese could re-ignite as well.

The government is expected to announce expedited relief measures for people who have lost their homes and property, but for some communities, abandoning their homes to the flames that have turned the sky a deep red was not an option.

“Police came and told us to evacuate the village of Avgaria but we cannot, this is our property. We cannot let our homes burn,” said Ioannis Aggelopoulos, 55, who owns a car body shop at Istiaia, on the island’s northern tip.

“We haven’t slept in three days, we have been sleeping in shifts.”

Villager Ioanna Metaksioti, 59, joined the patrol: “We are very afraid, but we have to stay.”

On Monday Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized for failures in tackling the wildfires that have burned across the country for the past week as authorities began counting the cost in lost homes and livelihoods.

He will chair a cabinet meeting later in the day and his government will announce specific relief measures for those who lost homes, farms and property.

On Monday he approved a 500 million-euro budget for aid for Evia and the Attica region around Athens.

Sentinel-2 satellite imagery showed swathes of forest scorched by the wildfires in Attica, Evia and the Peloponnese, with the Athens National Observatory estimating that about 650,000 hectares had been burned in total until Sunday.

More than 500 fires have been burning across Greece, forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages and thousands of people. Almost 1,000 firefighters, nine aircraft and 200 vehicles have been sent to Greece from other European countries to help.

Mitsotakis promised that forests destroyed by the fires would be restored and climate refences would be built up.

  • Reuters