Greece Further Reinforces Firefighting Forces in Massive Wildfire in Northeast Burning for 13th Day

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greek authorities further reinforced firefighting forces in the country's northeast Thursday, where a massive blaze in its thirteenth day has flared up once more, triggering authorities to issue alerts to residents in the area to be on standby for possible evacuation.

More than 100 extra firefighters were deployed, bringing the total to 582, backed by a fleet of 10 planes and seven helicopters from nine European countries, the fire department said. The fire that started Aug. 19 has decimated homes and vast tracts of forest in the Alexandroupolis and Evros region, near Greece's border with Turkey. It has been blamed for 20 of last week's 21 wildfire-related deaths in Greece.

Several other people, including the two-member crew of a firefighting plane, have lost their lives in wildfires so far this year in Greece. Lawmakers held a minute of silence at the start of a parliamentary debate on the fires and the state response Wednesday morning.

The reasons for the country's major blazes this year are under investigation by fire department officials and the intelligence services.

For some of the small blazes, deliberate arson has been suspected and several people have been arrested, while there have also been dozens of arrests for negligence causing fires.

Since the Alexandroupolis and Evros fire began, evacuation orders have been issued for thousands of people in villages and from the main hospital in the city of Alexandroupolis, with the vast majority allowed back once the danger had passed.

Overnight, residents of two villages near the border with Turkey and near a wildlife sanctuary were put on alert for potential evacuation as one of the fire fronts flared up.

The blaze, now burning deep in the forest in the Dadia national park, is the largest single wildfire recorded in the European Union since the European Forest Fire Information System started keeping records in 2000.

With no signs of abating, the fire had burned more than 81,000 hectares (200,000 acres) of land by Tuesday, according to the European Union's Copernicus Emergency Management Service, the EU space program's Earth observation component and uses satellite imagery to provide mapping data.

Greece has been stricken by hundreds of wildfires across the country this summer, with dozens of new blazes breaking out each day. The vast majority are extinguished quickly before they spread. In the 24 hours between Tuesday and Wednesday evening, firefighters were tackling 81 fires in Greece, including 47 that had broken out within that timeframe, the fire department said.

Seeing its firefighting forces stretched to the limit, Greece called on other European countries for help. Hundreds of firefighters from Romania, France, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Albania, Slovakia and Serbia have helped battle the blazes, along with 12 aircraft from Germany, Sweden, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France and Spain.