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Greek town near Athens declares emergency amid raging wildfire

Staff Writer |
The Greek municipality of Oropos, located some 40 km north of Athens, declared a state of emergency due to a raging wildfire burning since Sunday afternoon, the country's Civil Protection Service announced Sunday night.

The major forest fire has caused extensive property damage and forced the evacuation of many local residents.

Mayor Thomas Roussis urged people living near the fire fronts to leave for their own safety and to facilitate the work of the firefighters, according to local media reports.

"In the evening, the wind changed course and that made the fire even worse. This fire is very difficult, as in the forest there are scattered houses, making it much harder for the firefighters," Civil Protection Service General Secretary Yannis Kapakis was cited by the national Athens News Agency as saying.

Some 70 firefighters were taking part in the operation, backed by more than 23 fire engines and water tankers. During the day time, they were assisted by two water-dropping helicopters, according to the local Fire Service.

"The fire has caused immense damage. A great part of the natural wealth of the area is lost," local councilor Petros Dedas told Xinhua as he was trying to save his property from the fire.

"The fire started at around 4 p.m.(1400 GMT). I was sleeping when my grandchildren woke me up to tell me that it smelt like smoke. A helicopter came, but there was no second one...I feel sorry that this paradise has turned into a hell," Nikos Vlachos, a resident of Kalamos, told Xinhua.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he had requested the mobilization of all state forces and the fire service. "In these difficult times, our hearts are with the local residents, the volunteers and the firefighters fighting the flames," Tsipras said on his Twitter account.

Authorities said two camping areas near Kalamos were evacuated. And they have also shut down a large portion of the local road network as the blaze expanded in several directions.

Three other wildfires were reported in the suburbs of Athens on Sunday, but the firefighters managed to get the fire under control within a few hours.

Meanwhile, wildfires continue to burn forest area in the Ionian island of Zakynthos.

Authorities suspect the wave of wildfires raging since Friday noon to be the result of arson, according to a statement released by the Greek Fire Service.

Arson investigators have been dispatched to the island in the wake of 11 fires reported within 72 hours at various locations on the isle.

Greece suffers scores of destructive wildfires each summer linked to high temperatures or arson.

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