Massive Wildfire in Northeastern Greece Persists for 11th Day Despite European Firefighting Efforts

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- A massive wildfire was burning unabated in northeastern Greece for the 11th day Tuesday despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters and a fleet of water-dropping aircraft.

After burning across vast tracts of land, the blaze in the Alexandroupolis and Evros region was mainly concentrated deep in a forest near the border with Turkey, in an area difficult to access. The wildfire has been blamed for 20 of the 21 wildfire-related deaths in Greece last week.

Six planes and four helicopters were assisting 475 firefighters on the ground, backed by 100 vehicles, the fire department said. Another 260 firefighters and one helicopter were tackling flare-ups of another major fire burning for days in a forest on the southern slopes of Mount Parnitha, on the fringes of the Greek capital.

Authorities are investigating the causes of the fires, which over the past week has destroyed vast tracts of forest, scorched homes and triggered the evacuation of thousands of people.

In Athens, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was holding a government meeting on how to rehabilitate the burnt forests in Evros and Parnitha.

With firefighting forces stretched to the limit, Greece has called for help from other European countries, receiving aircraft and hundreds of firefighters from across the continent.

France and Spain were sending additional aircraft to join those already sent from Germany, Sweden, Croatia, Cyprus and the Czech Republic under the European Union's emergency response mechanism.

"In total, we have mobilized 12 aircraft stationed in seven member states. This is the biggest rescEU aerial firefighting operation to date" since the emergency response mechanism was launched in 2019, the EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid authority said Monday on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

More than 350 firefighters have also been sent to Greece from Romania, France, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Albania, Slovakia and Serbia.

The Alexandroupolis and Evros wildfire, which broke out on Aug. 19, had scorched more than 80,000 hectares (197,000 acres) of land by Monday night, according to the European Union's Copernicus Emergency Management Service. Copernicus is the EU space program's Earth observation component and uses satellite imagery to provide mapping data.

EU officials have described it as the largest single blaze recorded in the block since the European Forest Fire Information System began recording data in 2000.

Across the country, firefighters were battling 74 wildfires on Monday, with 27 of them having broken out in the 24 hours between Sunday evening and Monday evening, the fire department said.

Arson has been suspected in some of the blazes, with several people arrested.

Greece imposes wildfire prevention regulations, typically from the start of May to the end of October, limiting activities such as the burning of dried vegetation and the use of outdoor barbecues.

By Friday, fire department officials had arrested 163 people on fire-related charges since the start of the fire prevention season, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said, including 118 for negligence and 24 for deliberate arson. The police had made a further 18 arrests, he said.