Greece battles wildfires fanned by gale force winds

Wildifre burns in the village of Latas in southern Greece

ATHENS (Reuters) - Hundreds of firefighters struggled on Saturday to contain wildfires fanned by gale force winds on two Greek islands and in other parts of Greece, as authorities warned many regions face a high risk of new blazes.

More than 30 firefighters backed by two aircraft and five helicopters were battling a wildfire burning οn the island of Andros in the Aegean, away from tourist resorts, where four communities were evacuated as a precaution.

"More firefighters (are) expected on the island later in the day," a fire services official told Reuters, adding there were no reports of damage or injuries.

Wildfires are common in Greece but they have become more devastating in recent years amid hotter and drier summers that scientists link to climate change. A wildfire near Athens last week forced dozens to flee their homes, which authorities said they believed was the result of arson as well as the hot, dry conditions.

Meteorologists say the latest fires are the first time that the country has experienced "hot-dry-windy" conditions so early in the summer.

"I can't remember another year facing such conditions so early, in early and mid-June," meteorologist Thodoris Giannaros told state TV.

On Friday, a 55-year-old man died in hospital after being injured in a blaze in the region of Ilia on Greece's Peloponnese peninsula, as several fires burned on Greece's southern tip.

Several hundred firefighters have been deployed to battle more than 70 forest fires across the country since Friday. High winds and hot temperatures will extend the risk into Sunday, the fire service said.

Earlier on Saturday, firefighters tamed a forest fire on the island of Salamina, in the Saronic Gulf west of Athens, and another about 30 kilometres east of the capital.

After forest fires last year forced 19,000 people to flee the island of Rhodes and killed 20 in the northern mainland, Greece has scaled up its preparations this year by hiring more staff and stepping up training.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by David Holmes)