Wildfire rages on Greek island Evia, smoke reaches Athens

Acropolis hill with the Parthenon temple is covered with smoke from a wildfire burning the Island of Evia. in Athens

Acropolis hill with the Parthenon temple is covered with smoke from a wildfire burning the Island of Evia. in Athens

"Conditions are exceptionally hard and the state's first priority is to protect lives", Kyriakos Mitsotakis told reporters outside the fire department's centre of operations, after cutting short a vacation on his home island of Crete.

A large wildfire blown by strong winds destroyed areas of forest on the Greek island of Evia on Tuesday morning, and Greek authorities are now preparing to evacuate surrounding villages.

The fire on Greece's second largest island after Crete, located northeast of Athens, started at about 3 a.m. (0000 GMT) at the side of a road and was quickly spread by strong winds through the dry vegetation, the semi-official news agency ANA said.

As night fell, crews fought to protect the villages of Kontodespoti, Makrymalli, Stavros and Platana after clearing them of residents.

The fire department said more than 130 firefighters were battling the flames, along with four water-dropping planes and two helicopters. A volunteer firefighter reportedly burned on the island was transported to a hospital in Athens.

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

Wildfires raged in at least four other regions, and the fire brigade said it had been called to put out 182 fires in the last three days. "As I was leaving, the fire was coming behind us". Six water-dropping planes and five helicopters were deployed. A third wildfire was burning through brush and dried weeds near Thebes, northwest of Athens, while another broke out in southern Greece, burning woodland and agricultural areas.

Parks and forest areas are sometimes closed to the public at times of high fire risk.

A year ago a wildfire killed 100 people in the seaside town of Mati near Athens, and in 2007 devastating fires killed 65, scorched thousands of hectares of forest and farmland and threatened archaeological sites.

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