Strong winds fan major wildfire on Greek island Evia near Athens
Athens: Dozens of firefighters Tuesday battled a major wildfire that forced the evacuation of a monastery on the Greek island of Evia as smoke from the blaze reached as far as Athens, authorities said.
Authorities also placed on alert two villages threatened by the blaze on the island, Greece's second largest after Crete and located northeast of Athens.
The fire started at about 3 am (0000 GMT) at the side of a road and was quickly spread by strong winds through the dry and dense vegetation in the centre of the island, the semi-official news agency ANA said.
The monastery of Panagia Makrymallis was evacuated as a precaution and residents of the villages of Kontodespoti and Stavros were told to be ready to leave also, TV SKAI said.
"Everything is ready in case it is necessary to evacuate the villages. The evacuation can be done in a few minutes. We are totally prepared," Fani Spanos, the governor of central Greece who was coordinating the operations, told SKAI.
He warned the fire was not yet under control and was spreading in an area that was inaccessible overland.
Around 80 firefighters were fighting the blaze backed by some 40 fire trucks and two water-bombing helicopters and a plane.
The strong winds blew the smoke from the blazing pine forest north toward the Magnesia region and south to the Attica peninsula and Athens.
ANA said the pine forests on Evia are part of the "Natura 2000" European network of protected areas and habitats.
Greece has been hit by a spate of wildfires since the weekend amid gale-force winds and temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 F). On Monday, a major forest fire threatening homes in Peania, an eastern suburb of Athens, was brought under control.