ATHENS: At least 150 houses were destroyed by a violent blaze that surrounded a monastery and a dozen villages on the Greek island of Evia on Wednesday, just one of some 40 fires raging in the heatwave-hit country.
Firefighters were also battling a blaze near Athens, while flames threatened Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games where the mayor pleaded for back-up.
On Evia, huge flames leapt up from the forest, visible from afar in what firefighters said was a difficult blaze to control on an island of rolling hills with little visibility.
Three monks from Saint David Monastery had refused to leave, firefighters said, adding that everyone else had been evacuated from the villages nearby.
“The flames are 30 to 40 metres (100 to 130 feet) high and surrounding the monastery. We’re suffocating due to the smoke,” one of the monks told the ANA news agency by phone.
Police told AFP they would force the monks to evacuate if their life was in danger.
Locals had gathered on a beach and were due to be evacuated by boat, while 100 firefighters, two helicopters and four water-bombing planes were mobilised.
But Dimitris Vourdanos, deputy governor of the region, said that “we are completely unable to intervene by air or by land”.
“There are two main fronts which are uncontrollable and several other smaller ones,” he told the Kathimerini newspaper.
The deputy mayor of the small town of Mantoudi said there were “at least 150 houses burnt”.