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Site of first ancient Olympics at risk as fires rage in Greece

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By Euronews with AFP
A wildfire approaches the Olympic Academy, foreground, in ancient Olympia, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021.
A wildfire approaches the Olympic Academy, foreground, in ancient Olympia, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021.   -   Copyright  Credit: AP
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Firefighters continue to battle major fires in Greece, including one that could put the archaeological site of the first ancient Olympic games at risk.

Large forces were deployed near the village of Ancient Olympia to protect the site in the west of the Peloponnese peninsula.

Ancient Olympia, usually crowded with tourists, was evacuated on Wednesday, along with six other nearby settlements.

After burning some 20 houses, "the fire front is now heading towards the area of Lala," a mountainous forest area northeast of the ancient site, prefect Nektarios Farmakis said on Thursday morning, interviewed by Greek news agency ANA.

Two residents and two firefighters were slightly injured and hospitalised, according to ANA.

On Thursday morning, more than 170 firefighters, helped by about 50 vehicles and six helicopters and water-bombing planes were still battling, assisted by army reinforcements, according to the fire brigade.

Giannis Spyrounis/ilialive.gr via AP
A wildfire approaches the ancient OlympiaGiannis Spyrounis/ilialive.gr via AP

Equivalent forces were deployed on the huge island of Evia, some 200 km east of Athens, the scene of a violent and uncontrolled fire that broke out on Tuesday in a mountainous and wooded area, dried out by the scorching temperatures of recent days.

Hundreds of houses were burned as well as more than 25,000 hectares of pine forest, according to initial estimates.

About 90 people were evacuated by sea on Wednesday from Rovies beach in the northwest of the island by the Greek coastguard.

Greece has been battling dozens of fires for the past week in what Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the "worst heatwave" in more than 30 years, with temperatures hovering between 40 and 45 degrees Celsius.

The prime minister stressed "the need for studies" to be done to "avoid further disasters".

"If some people are still wondering whether climate change is a reality, let them come here to see the intensity of this phenomenon," he said.

On Thursday morning, two more villages were evacuated, according to ANA.

According to Giannis Tsapourniotis, the mayor of Mantoudi, a village in Evia, the raging fire is moving on four fronts, one of which is moving uncontrollably west of the St David's monastery, which was forcibly evacuated on Wednesday.

But on Thursday morning, the wind had strengthened and air assets were struggling to fly over the fires as visibility was limited due to thick smoke, according to ANA.

Firefighters said on Thursday morning that they had had to deal with 92 forest fires in the past 24 hours in Greece, out of the 118 counted on Wednesday evening by Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias.

"We are making a titanic effort on several fronts," he also said at a press briefing.

Another fire was underway in Messinia, in the southern Peloponnese, where six municipalities were evacuated as a precaution, according to fire officials.