ALEPOCHORI, Greece: Firemen intervene in a forest near the village of Mazi, after an overnight fire on a mountain range overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, yesterday.-AFP

ALEPOCHORI, Greece: Several Greek villages were evacuated yesterday with no injuries reported as firefighters battled the country's first major blaze of the year on a mountain range overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. Six villages and two monasteries were evacuated after the fire broke out on Wednesday evening near the village of Schinos on the Gulf of Corinth, some 90 kilometers (56 miles) west of Athens, a spokesman told AFP. Bleary-eyed residents said they barely had time to dress as they were taken to the nearby coastal village of Alepochori for safety. "We were alerted at four in the morning by the police, who told us to leave," an elderly local told Skai TV.

"They then searched neighboring homes for people unable to move on their own. We were not in danger," he said. Fire department chief Stefanos Kolokouris said reinforcements had been rushed in from around the country to contain the blaze. Local officials said the fire had a front 10 kilometers wide. "The situation is clearly better now," Kolokouris told Skai TV. "It's a large fire in a pine forest (and the) terrain is difficult."

The fire raged overnight around the protected wildlife habitat of Mount Geraneia. "This is a dense forest that had never burned before," the mayor of the neighboring resort town of Loutraki, Yiorgos Gionis, told Alpha TV. Kolokouris said he believed the fire could be brought under control during the course of the day. However, the Loutraki mayor said there was still concern should the wind switch direction. Billowing clouds of smoke were visible in the capital.

First major fire this year

Many locals have summer homes in the area, but lives are not in immediate threat, fire officials said. However, electricity has been knocked out in the area and could take 48 hours to restore service, according to state grid technicians on the scene. "This is the first major fire of 2021... communities have been evacuated as a precaution," fire department spokesman Vassilis Vathrakogiannis had earlier told Skai.

"We have no information (that people's lives were threatened) and we have not had to rescue anyone," he said. Over 180 firemen with 62 fire engines in addition to volunteers have been deployed to the area, backed by 17 planes and three helicopters, the fire department tweeted.

A handful of homes are believed to have been burned, the Loutraki mayor said. The fire on Wednesday had reached the sea, burning two boats in the coastal village of Mavrolimni, local officials said. Wildfires pose a challenge for Greece every year during the dry summer season, with strong winds and temperatures frequently exceeding 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). In 2018, 102 people died in the coastal resort of Mati, near Athens, in Greece's worst fire disaster. - AFP