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Thousands battle forest fires in Greece and Russia

Thousands of people battled extensive forest fires in Russia, particularly in Eastern Siberia, on Saturday. The extreme weather affecting parts of Europe also took its toll on Greece, where forest fires broke out on the vacation island of Kefalonia.

In Russia, authorities announced on Saturday that there were 196 forest fires, affecting 288,460 hectares – an area bigger than Luxembourg – in Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, and a state of emergency has been declared in the sparsely populated region.

The environmental organisation Greenpeace has sent volunteers to the area to protect its famous Lena Pillars Nature Park, a UNESCO world heritage site since 2012.

The national forest conservation agency has reported 264 forest fires over a combined area of 325,526 hectares throughout Russia. Over 4,700 persons, hundreds of vehicles, and 25 airplanes and helicopters have been deployed to put out the fires.

However, firefighting operations have been halted in many areas since there was no threat to human life. Moreover, the cost of extinguishing the fires far exceeded the damage they caused.

The fires in Sakha Republic filled the air above the city of Yakuts with clouds of smoke, the authorities indicated. MI-8 helicopters have been deployed to put out the fires in the region, forestry director Vladimir Ivanov said in a press release.

According to Greenpeace forestry experts, the situation in Russia has been made worse by climate change.

Meanwhile, in Greece, after a 10-day heat wave coupled with drought, a large forest fire broke out on Saturday on the resort island of Kefalonia. Entire villages had to be evacuated and firefighters used seven planes and helicopters to try and stop the flames.

Temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius have been recorded during the heatwave in Greece.

Moreover, there were strong winds in the west of the country on Saturday.

The Brussels Times