Blazes flare anew in Greece but spare ancient Olympia

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Firefightering helicopters are filled with water off the beach of the village of Pefki, on the island of Evia, Greece, August 10, 2021. REUTERS/Nicolas Economou

EVIA, Greece, Aug 11 (Reuters) - A big blaze that swelled overnight in the Peloponnese peninsula forced the evacuation of many villages as exhausted firefighters battled wildfires across Greece for a ninth day on Wednesday.

In northern Evia, Greece's second-largest island, flare-ups remained the main problem for firefighters, who were joined by volunteers to combat the flames.

In the Peloponnese, a flare-up started near ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games, but spread to Gortynia as it intensified late on Tuesday, burning virgin forest and leading authorities to evacuate 20 villages.

About 580 Greek firefighters helped by colleagues from France, Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic were battling the blazes in Gortynia.

The fires broke out during Greece's worst heatwave in three decades last week, with searing temperatures and dry heat causing tinder box conditions.

At the Pefki seaside resort on Evia, cafeteria owner Thrasyvoulos Kotzias, 34, looked at an empty beach.

"If we did not have these problems the beach at Pefki would be full of people. Right now it is just us," he said.

"If helicopters and water bombing planes had come right away and operated for six, seven hours, the wildfire would have been put out in the first day," he said.

A Russian Ilyushin Il-76 water bombing plane landed in Athens on Tuesday to assist in firefighting operations and another one is expected to arrive that will be stationed in Thessaloniki.

More than 500 fires burned across Greece in the last week, forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages and thousands of people.

"Our climate is changing and we need to make hard choices as a species to avoid the worst," astronaut Thomas Pesquet tweeted from the International Space Station orbiting the earth. "My heart goes out to all affected by the wildfires and the intense heat in the Mediterranean."

Writing by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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