Firefighters backed by water-dropping planes and helicopters are battling a wildfire burning through a protected nature reserve on the Greek island of Evia for a second day.

The six planes and five helicopters are concentrating on areas where access to the island’s dense pine forest, which includes canyons, is difficult by land. More than 250 firefighters, dozens of soldiers and volunteers are battling the wildfire, that broke out in the early hours of Tuesday.

A state of emergency was declared for the area on Tuesday, when strong winds hampered firefighting and carried smoke from Greece’s second-largest island as far as the capital Athens, almost 50 miles to the south.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis
Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis visits wildfire devastation in Makrymalli, on the island of Evia (Yorgos Karahalis/AP)

The winds died down on Wednesday and authorities expressed cautious optimism about the progression of the fire, although it had still not been brought under control.

Speaking during a visit to the area, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “Things are better, but… no complacency is allowed and I would ask everyone to carefully follow the orders and directions of the civil protection authority and the fire department.”

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from four villages and a monastery, and authorities said around 28sq km had been burnt by midday on Wednesday.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis
Mr Mitsotakis, centre, was given a tour of the damage as firefighting efforts continued nearby (Yorgos Karahalis/AP)

Thanking firefighters for their efforts, Mr Mitsotakis said “drastic interventions” would be made in the way that civil protection operates.

“I am satisfied by the level of co-ordination but there is still other work that needs to be done,” he said.

“We know that wildfires will be with us. They will be part, as they have always been, of our daily life as climate change is taking its toll on southern Europe.”

Brush on fire
A firefighter tries to extinguish the flames in the village of Makrymalli (Yorgos Karahalis/AP)

Vasilis Pirgos, a villager from Kontodespoti, one of the four villages evacuated on Tuesday, said they had “tried with every means we had to control the fire and for it not to enter the village and burn the houses”.

They added: “Thankfully we had support from the air. We had many helicopters over the village dropping water continuously and we managed to save the houses.”

Greece called on the European civil protection system for help and Italy and Croatia pledged four firefighting planes.

Michalis Chrisochoidis, Greece’s citizens’ protection minister, said authorities had “managed to protect people’s lives… and save the people’s properties”.