People wait to be evacuated from the Psachna village during a forest fire near the village of Makrimalli on the island of Evia, northeast of Athens, on August 13 2019. Picture: AFP/ANGELOS TZORTZINIS
People wait to be evacuated from the Psachna village during a forest fire near the village of Makrimalli on the island of Evia, northeast of Athens, on August 13 2019. Picture: AFP/ANGELOS TZORTZINIS

Athens — Aircraft sprayed water early on Wednesday in a bid to douse the flames of a huge wildfire on the Greek island of Evia that had prompted the evacuation of villages and spurred an appeal from authorities for assistance from European partners.

A state of emergency has been declared in regions of the densely forested island east of Athens, after the blaze broke out on Tuesday, fanned by strong winds and high temperatures.

Italy sent two aircraft after an appeal for airborne firefighting equipment from Greek authorities. Officials said the situation appeared better by morning after firefighters spent the night battling flames.

“The situation appears better, there was a huge effort [to contain the fire], superhuman efforts,” Kostas Bakoyannis, the regional governor for central Greece, told Skai TV.

Water dumping by specially equipped aircraft started at first light. “It is a difficult fire, that's the reality … there is no danger to human life and that is what is important,” Bakoyannis said.

Fire officials said four villages and hundreds of people were evacuated as a precaution on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis interrupted his holiday on Crete to return to Athens where he was briefed on the situation.

Television images showed flames and plumes of black smoke on mountainsides carpeted in pine. Parts of Evia's forests are a Natura 2000 site, which the EU designates as a nature reserve.

Greece often faces wildfires during its dry summer months, and authorities have warned of the high risk of blazes this week. Environmental campaigners see an increasing number of wildfires around the world as a symptom of climate change.

A horrific blaze that tore through the seaside town of Mati near Athens in July 2018 killed 102 people in a matter of hours. 

Reuters