Nearly 2,000 hectares of pristine forestland has been destroyed by the fire that started on Schinos in the Loutraki area around 9.45 pm on Wednesday night, Greece’s Deputy Civil Protection Minister for Crisis Management Nikos Hardalias said during a live emergency briefing on Thursday afternoon.

The pine forest fire, he said, began during cleaning work in an olive grove by the Gerania mountain range and has spread through the dense forest, with the help of strong winds registering 7 and 8 on the Beaufort scale. The forestland had not been maintained for years, the minister said.

Several villages in Alepochori have been evacuated, and “a battle is waged under difficult circumstances,” he said.

A burnt down house as fire ravages through Loutrakis. Photo: AMNA/Vasilis Psomas

There have been 265 firefighters battling the blaze since 06.10am, 10 army units on foot, and volunteer firefighters, with regional water trucks. There were eight Canadair and nine PZL aircraft, along with two Chinook, one Super Puma and one BK helicopters, and a police helicopter helping with the coordination. The overall coordination is carried out from the Fire Brigade’s mobile crisis center, which has arrived in the area.

Special arson investigators were at the scene on Wednesday night, while the EU’s Copernicus satellite service has been activated.

Residents in the villages of Liakoto, Kato Pefkenea, Chani Derveni and the Aghios Ierotheos monastery were called to evacuate on Thursday evening for precautionary purposes, as a major forest fire rages northwest of Megara.

In a message sent through the 112 European emergency number, the Civil Protection General Secretariat suggested residents evacuate villages through the secondary roads leading to Megara.