Fierce fires force evacuations on Greek island of Lesbos

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Residents and tourists were evacuated on Saturday as a wildfire on the Greek island of Lesbos destroyed homes and threatened villages. 

The blaze, which started in the mountainous forests to the west of the island this morning, is spreading on two fronts. 

One fire is heading towards the village of Vrisa, the other towards the beach resort of Vatera, where at least two homes have been razed. 

A huge plume of smoke is visible in the area. It is being carried by strong winds, which are making it harder for emergency services to extinguish the flames. 

One fleeing resident told TV ERT that her home was on fire.

“We are battling to save homes,” Taxiarchis Verros, mayor of western Lesvos, told the Greek broadcaster.

81 firefighters with 19 vehicles, 5 civil groups, 9 aircraft and 1 helicopter are trying to extinguish the blaze, and they are awaiting reinforcements to arrive from northern Greece. 

One firefighter has been injured, according to regional governor Kostas Moutzouris.

On the advice of the emergency services, Verros ordered the evacuation of the bustling resort town of Vatera as a precautionary measure. An evacuation message was issued by Greece’s 112 Emergency Communications Service to those in the area.

Although the mayor did not specify the number of people evacuated, several buses and small boats were taking part in the operation. 

At least eight people, among them four French tourists, have been collected from Vatera beach, according to the Greek media outlet Skai. 

Vatera, an 8 km (5 mile) long sandy beach in the southern part of Lesvos, is a popular tourist attraction.

On Saturday, firefighters were out for the third day fighting a raging fire in Dadia National Park — described by the park’s management as “one of the most important protected areas at national, European and international level” — in the Evros region, northeastern Greece.

Emergency services in the area said that the thick smoke released by the fire had prevented firefighting planes from intervening.

A wildfire in mountains near Athens earlier this week damaged homes and forced several hundreds of people to flee, with authorities calling this summer one of the toughest in the Mediterranean.

Last year, wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland across Greece during the country’s worst heatwave in 30 years

Extreme weather events, such as forest fires and heatwaves, are becoming more frequent and intense because of human-induced climate change. 

Experts have warned that these trends will continue to worsen and grow more severe unless governments around the world make significant cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions.