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

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.

Fires are being fuelled by an intense heatwave.

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.

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.

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.

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