A huge cloud of smoke rise from a forest fire at Psachna village on the island of Evia, northeast of Athens, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. Dozens of firefighters backed by water-dropping aircraft are battling a wildfire on an island north of Athens that has left the Greek capital blanketed in smoke. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Villages evacuated as fire burns Greek island nature reserve

August 13, 2019 - 10:00 am

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Hundreds of firefighters battled wildfires in Greece Tuesday, with the largest burning through a thickly forested nature reserve on the island of Evia north of Athens where three villages have been evacuated.

More than 220 firefighters were deployed to tackle the fire that was burning out of control in Evia, along with six water-dropping planes and seven helicopters.

Smoke from the fire blanketed the Greek capital in the morning. The country's civil protection authority warned people in affected areas, particularly the elderly, young children and those suffering from breathing or heart conditions, to remain indoors and set air conditioning units to recycle indoor air.

Dozens more firefighters, two planes and a helicopter tackled a separate forest fire on the northern island of Thassos. 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. More than 30 firefighters were tackling the fourth blaze.

Forest fires are common in Greece during the hot, dry summer months. Authorities have repeatedly warned the public not to engage in outdoor activities that could cause fires, such as welding work, burning dried weeds or lighting campfires and barbecues. Parks and forest areas are sometimes closed to the public at times of high fire risk.

Last year, more than 100 people died when a fast-moving forest fire broke out in a seaside area northeast of Athens and raged through a nearby settlement of mainly holiday homes.

The fire trapped people in their cars as they attempted to flee, while many other victims drowned as they tried to swim away from beaches overcome by heat and choking smoke.

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