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Strong winds fan major wildfire on Greek island near Athens

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By Agence France-Presse

ATHENS, Greece – Dozens of firefighters Tuesday battled a major wildfire that forced the evacuation of a monastery on the Greek island of Evia as smoke from the blaze reached as far as Athens, authorities said.

A man stands in front of a burnt house following a wildfire on Mount Hymittos in the suburb of Peania near Athens on August 12, 2019. (Photo by ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

A man stands in front of a burnt house following a wildfire on Mount Hymittos in the suburb of Peania near Athens on August 12, 2019. (Photo by ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

Authorities also placed on alert two villages threatened by the blaze on the island, Greece’s second-largest after Crete and located northeast of Athens.

The fire started at about 3 am (0000 GMT) at the side of a road and was quickly spread by strong winds through the dry and dense vegetation in the center of the island, the semi-official news agency ANA said.

The monastery of Panagia Makrymallis was evacuated as a precaution and residents of the villages of Kontodespoti and Stavros were told to be ready to leave also, TV SKAI said.

“Everything is ready in case it is necessary to evacuate the villages. The evacuation can be done in a few minutes. We are totally prepared,” Fani Spanos, the governor of central Greece who was coordinating the operations, told SKAI.

He warned the fire was not yet under control and was spreading in an area that was inaccessible overland.

Around 80 firefighters were fighting the blaze backed by some 40 fire trucks and two water-bombing helicopters and a plane.

The strong winds blew the smoke from the blazing pine forest north toward the Magnesia region and south to the Attica peninsula and Athens.

ANA said the pine forests on Evia are part of the “Natura 2000” European network of protected areas and habitats.

Greece has been hit by a spate of wildfires since the weekend amid gale-force winds and temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 F).

On Monday, a major forest fire threatening homes in Peania, an eastern suburb of Athens, was brought under control. At least two houses were burned but there were no reports of injuries.

On Sunday, a fire on the small island of Elafonissos, in the Peloponnese region, was brought under control after a two-day battle.

Two more fires were doused on Saturday in Marathon, close to Mati, the coastal resort where last year 102 people died in Greece’s worst fire disaster.

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