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Ancient Greek site of Olympia under threat from raging wildfires

·2-min read
A wildfire approaches the Olympic Academy in ancient Olympia in western Greece on August 4, 2021 - Eurokinissi/AFP
A wildfire approaches the Olympic Academy in ancient Olympia in western Greece on August 4, 2021 - Eurokinissi/AFP

Greek firefighters battled Thursday to bring under control two major fires raging near Olympia and on the island of Evia as the country swelters in a record-breaking heatwave.

More than 170 firefighters, around 50 trucks, six helicopters and water-bombing aircraft were deployed near the ancient archeological site, the birthplace of the Olympic games, on the Peloponnese peninsula.

After destroying around 20 houses, "the fire's front is now heading towards Lalas," a wooded mountainous area to the north west of Olympia, local official Nektarios Farmakis told the ANA news agency.

Olympia, usually thronging with tourists at this time of year, as well as six nearby villages, were evacuated the day before.

A similar number of firefighters were also battling to contain a blaze on Evia, some 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of Athens.

Firefighters fighting the blaze in Varibobi, Athens, Greece - Athena Picture Agency Ltd /Athena Picture Agency Ltd
Firefighters fighting the blaze in Varibobi, Athens, Greece - Athena Picture Agency Ltd /Athena Picture Agency Ltd
Burnt out cars and houses following a wildfire in Tatoi-Acharne, near Athens, Greece, on Wednesday, Aug. 4 - Nick Paleologos/Bloomberg
Burnt out cars and houses following a wildfire in Tatoi-Acharne, near Athens, Greece, on Wednesday, Aug. 4 - Nick Paleologos/Bloomberg

At least 150 houses were destroyed on the island as the fire surrounded a monastery and a dozen villages.

Two more villages were evacuated early on Thursday, ANA reported.

The mayor of the town of Mantoudi, Giannis Tsapourniotis, said the fire was moving on four fronts, with one particularly difficult to control near the Saint David Monastery, which was evacuated on Wednesday.

On Thursday, strong winds made it difficult for firefighting aircraft to reach the blazes, with poor visibility due to the thick smoke, ANA said.

A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop as a wildfire continues to rage at Varympompi suburb north of Athens - REUTERS
A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop as a wildfire continues to rage at Varympompi suburb north of Athens - REUTERS
Flames burn near buildings in Tatoi area, northern Athens - Shutterstock
Flames burn near buildings in Tatoi area, northern Athens - Shutterstock

The fire brigade said Thursday that it had had to deal with 92 forest fires over the past 24 hours, on top of the 118 from the previous day.

"We're waging a battle of the titans," deputy minister for civil protection Nikos Hardalias told journalists. "The hardest is still to come."

Neighbouring Turkey is also suffering its worst fires in at least a decade, claiming the lives of eight people and forcing hundreds to evacuate in southern areas popular with tourists.

Experts have warned that global warming is increasing both the frequency and intensity of such fires.

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