Thousands more flee fires outside Athens amid heat wave
ATHENS-The Associated Press
Thousands of residents fled to safety from a wildfire that burned for a fourth day north of Athens early on Aug. 6, during an overnight battle to stop the flames from reaching populated areas, electricity installations and historic sites.
On the nearby island of Evia, the coast guard mounted a massive operation with patrol boats and private vessels to evacuate hundreds of people by sea.
With a protracted heatwave scorching the country, the blaze tore through forest areas 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) north of the capital, destroying more homes. Ground crews of several hundred firefighters dug fire breaks and hosed the flames.
Traffic was halted on the country’s main highway connecting Athens to northern Greece, as crews tried to use the road as a barrier to stop the flames advancing before water-dropping planes resumed flights at first light. But sparks and burning pine cones carried the fire across the highway at several points.
Several firefighters and volunteers were hospitalized with burns, health officials said.
“We are going through the 10th day of a major heatwave affecting our entire country, the worst heatwave in terms of intensity and duration of the last 30 years,” Fire Service Brig. Gen. Aristotelis Papadopoulos said.
Nearly 60 villages and settlements were evacuated on Aug. 5 and early on Aug. 6across southern Greece, with weather conditions expected to worsen as strong winds were predicted in much of the country.
Fires were raging on the island of Evia, northeast of Athens, and at multiple locations in the southern Peloponnese region where a blaze was stopped before reaching monuments at Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games.
A summer palace outside Athens once used by the former Greek royal family was also spared.
In Evia, the coast guard said its patrol boats, private vessels and tourist boats had evacuated 631 people overnight and by early on Aug. 6 morning from beaches on the northeastern coast of the island.
Fire crews, water-dropping planes, helicopters and vehicles from France, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland were due to arrive on Aug. 6 and through the weekend. Fire crews and planes from Cyprus were already in Greece, as the
European Union stepped up support to fire-hit countries in southeast Europe. The heatwave also has fueled deadly fires in Turkey and across the region.
“Our priority is always the protection of human life, followed by the protection of property, the natural environment and critical infrastructure. Unfortunately, under these circumstances, achieving all these aims at the same time is simply impossible,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised address on Aug. 5 night. The wildfires, he said, display “the reality of climate change.”
More than 1,000 firefighters, joined by the army and teams of volunteers, as well as nearly 20 water-dropping planes and helicopters were fighting five major fires across the country, the fire department said.