Greek wildfire rages near Athens, homes, hospital evacuated

Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire burning in Ntrafi, Athens, on July 19, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Smoke rises as a wildfire burns on Mount Penteli, in Athens, Greece. PHOTO: REUTERS

ATHENS (AFP, REUTERS) - Greece, scorched by a heatwave ravaging parts of Europe, deployed planes and helicopters early Wednesday (July 20) to stop wildfires from spreading to mountainside suburbs north of Athens.

Nearly 500 firefighters, 120 vehicles, three planes and four helicopters swung into action from dawn to battle the flames from approaching areas such as Gerakas, which is home to some 29,000 people.

The heatwave – the second to engulf parts of Europe in recent weeks – has contributed to deadly wildfires in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain, destroying vast tracts of land.

The wildfires on the foot of Mount Penteli north of Athens were fanned overnight by winds constantly changing direction, a spokesman for the firefighters said on Wednesday.

“This makes our task of dousing the flames difficult,” he said.
Residents in several areas, a paediatric hospital and the national observatory at Athens were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Thick clouds of smoke darkened the sky over Mount Penteli where the fire broke out around 1430 GMT on Tuesday (10.30pm in Singapore), some 27km north of central Athens.

There were no reports of injuries, the fire brigade said.

“It was a difficult night,” said Fire Department spokesman Yiannis Artopios in a televised statement, adding that the wind speed exceeded 80km per hour.

“Due to the intensity and speed of the winds, the fire constantly changed direction throughout the night, which made fighting it, in the middle of the night, even more difficult,” he said.

Local authorities said the fire had burned some homes in the area of Pallini. The fire brigade would not confirm the information.

The authorities had ordered the evacuation of nine areas, including Pallini and Gerakas.

Traffic was halted on roads leading to Penteli and police helped at least 600 residents to find their way out of the fire-stricken areas.

Strong winds were forecast to persist until Wednesday afternoon.

Greece has set up a crisis cell and firefighters battled 117 wildfires in the country in the last 24 hours.

The fire brigade said that 28 firefighters from Romania were assisting local firefighters. More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece.

Last year, wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heat wave in 30 years.

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