(Corrects paragraph 10 to say 65,000 hectares burned, not 650,000)
By Lefteris Papadimas
AVGARIA, Greece (Reuters) -Residents are mounting a round the clock watch to try to save their homes from the wildfires ravaging the Greek island of Evia, determined to stay put despite the authorities urging them to evacuate.
The fire brigade was bracing for a pick up in winds from Tuesday afternoon which could cause more flare ups on Greece’s second largest island, where fires were burning for an eighth day. Other fronts in the Peloponnese could also be reignited.
The government is due to announce fast-track relief measures for those who have lost homes and property – but for some villagers, leaving their houses to the flames turning the skies a deep red was not an option.
“Police came and told us to evacuate the village of Avgaria but we cannot, this is our property. We cannot let our homes burn,” said Ioannis Aggelopoulos, 55, who owns a car body shop at Istiaia, on the island’s northern tip.
“We haven’t slept in three days, we have been sleeping in shifts.”
Villager Ioanna Metaksioti, 59, joined the patrol: “We are very afraid, but we have to stay.”
On Monday Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologised for failures in tackling the wildfires that have burned across the country for the past week as authorities began counting the cost in lost homes and livelihoods.
He will chair a cabinet meeting later in the day and his government will announce specific relief measures for those who lost homes, farms and property.
On Monday he approved a 500 million-euro budget for aid for Evia and the Attica region around Athens.
Sentinel-2 satellite imagery showed swathes of forest scorched by the wildfires in Attica, Evia and the Peloponnese, with the Athens National Observatory estimating that about 65,000 hectares had been burned in total until Sunday.
More than 500 fires have been burning across Greece, forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages and thousands of people. Almost 1,000 firefighters, nine aircraft and 200 vehicles have been sent to Greece from other European countries to help.
Mitsotakis promised that forests destroyed by the fires would be restored and climate defences would be built up.
(Writing by George Georgiopoulos;Editing by Alison Williams)