Two Pilots Die After Firefighting Plane Crashes

[BBC] Two Greek air force pilots have died after a plane crashed while fighting wildfires on the Greek island of Evia, officials say.

The water-bombing plane crashed while battling a forest fire near Platanistos, the defence ministry said.

The pilots were named as 34-year-old Cdr Christos Moulas and his co-pilot, 27-year-old Pericles Stefanidis.

An intense European heatwave has also sparked wildfires across Sicily, Algeria and Tunisia.

Greek TV showed the Canadair aircraft flying low to drop water on a fire before turning sharply into a hillside and bursting into flames.

State broadcaster ERT said the plane crashed over the town of Karystos on the island, where a fire was burning.

The plane was among at least three other aircraft and about 100 firefighters tackling fires on Evia.

Defence Minister Nikos Dendias said the pilots lost their lives “in the line of duty… while attempting to protect the lives and property of citizens, as well as the environment of our country”.

A three-day mourning period has been declared in the Greek armed forces, the defence ministry said.

Emergency teams were fighting flames non-stop on dozens of fronts on Tuesday, Greek government minister Vassilis Kikilias said.

Crete, the largest Greek island, has been put on high alert, with residents warned there is an “extreme risk” of fire.

More evacuation flights are taking place from Rhodes, while more than 20,000 people have been evacuated from homes and resorts in recent days.

An international panel of scientists has said the current conditions could not possibly have happened without human-caused climate change.

Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, the Italian island of Sicily has been battling fires overnight after weeks of record-breaking temperatures.

Local media warned that the city of Palermo was “encircled” by fires, including a blaze that forced the temporary closure of Palermo airport on Tuesday.

Northern Italy has been reeling from violent storms and high winds that have uprooted trees and lifted roofs off buildings.

In some places, tennis ball-sized hailstones injured people, damaged cars and destroyed crops.

Algeria has also been battling to control wildfires along its Mediterranean coast that have killed at least 34 people.

A number of people suffered burn injuries and smoke inhalation, while more than 1,500 were evacuated from fires in 16 provinces.

An outbreak of 97 fires had mostly been brought under control, but 13 were still raging on Tuesday afternoon, the interior ministry said.

In neighbouring Tunisia, where temperatures up to 49C (120F) were recorded, officials said authorities were investigating the causes of forest fires that had broken out across the country in recent days.

One of the most severe fires in Maloula, near the Algerian border, has been brought under control after thousands were evacuated.

A forestry official has called for anyone found to have started the fires deliberately to be prosecuted “with an iron fist”.

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