ATHENS – Firefighters have contained a major wildfire that ravaged a pine forest and burned homes near the Greek capital, the minister for citizens' protection said Friday night, adding that a prosecutor for organized crime cases was involved in the investigation of this summer's major fires in Greece.
Hundreds of wildfires have burned across the country this month, including massive blazes that have taken days to bring under control. Tens of thousands of hectares of forest and farmland, as well as hundreds of homes and businesses, have been destroyed and thousands of residents have been forced to flee. One volunteer firefighter has died, and at least four more have been injured.
Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis said the prosecutor was “already cooperating closely and regularly" with the fire department and the police "for the in-depth investigation of the causes of all the large fires which have broken out this year.”
A major fire burning near the village of Vilia, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) northwest of Athens, since Monday was now under control, Chrisochoidis said, adding that firefighting forces remained in the area to ensure there were no flare-ups.
By Friday evening 461 firefighters, including 143 from Poland, 166 vehicles, 10 water-dropping planes and 18 helicopters were fighting the blaze, the fire department said.
It said 41 new wildfires broke out in the 24 hours between Thursday evening and Friday evening, with most being tackled and extinguished in their early stages.
They included a blaze that began overnight in a seaside area southeast of Athens and quickly spread towards houses triggering an evacuation order, Chrisochoidis said.
“And all this because, according to witnesses, the fire was due to the use of a flare by one or more" people, he said. The fire was brought under control, and its causes were being investigated for suspected arson.
So far more than a dozen people have been arrested on suspicion of arson across Greece, including a 14-year-old boy.
Greece’s wildfires come in the wake of the country’s worst heat wave in about three decades that left shrubland and forests parched.
The blazes have stretched Greece’s firefighting capabilities to the limit, leading the government to appeal for international help, including through a European Union emergency response system. About 24 European and Middle Eastern countries responded, sending planes, helicopters, vehicles and hundreds of firefighters.
The Romanian government said 142 firefighters with vehicles were heading to Greece on Friday.
Intense heat and wildfires have also struck other Mediterranean countries. Recent wildfires have killed at least 75 people in Algeria and 16 in Turkey, while in southern France 1,200 firefighters have been struggling to contain a major blaze that has forced thousands to flee, killed two people and injured 26. Worsening drought and heat have also fueled wildfires in the western United States and in Russia’s northern Siberia region.
Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme events.
Nicolae Dumitrache in Bucharest contributed to this report.
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