Wildfires rage in Greece amid worst heatwave in 40 years


ATHENS – Greece experienced the most painful consequences of the worst heat wave that hit the country in the last 40 years, said Deputy Minister for Civil Protection and Crisis Management Nikos Hardalias on Tuesday evening.

A total of 81 forest fires broke out in Greece in the last 24 hours. There were still 40 active fires across the country, Xinhua quoted him telling a press briefing here that was broadcast on Greek national broadcaster ERT.

“The largest and most dangerous front is in the north of Athens, on the foothills of Parnitha Mount that broke out earlier, threatening residential areas,” said Hardalias.

“We ask everyone in the wider area to be on alert. We are battling to protect human life, to have as little damage as possible, to extinguish the fire and protect the natural environment,” Hardalias added.

The combination of extreme temperatures reaching up to 45 degrees Celsius, strong winds up to Beaufort force 6 and low humidity levels was making the task of bringing the blaze under control much harder.

The Fire Service has been assisted by the army, the police, volunteers, and municipal crews.

A total of 520 firefighters were operating in the area with 150 groups of fire fighters on foot and 150 vehicles, nine helicopters and five aircraft, including a Russian Beriev Be-200 amphibious plane, to contain the fire.

Hardalias said 315 people were taken to safety by firefighters or police during the evacuation after running into difficulties. According to Greek national News agency AMNA, six people and one fireman were hospitalised for breathing problems.

Hotels across the Greek capital are providing rooms for thousands of evacuees from the ongoing wildfire that has already destroyed houses and affected the electricity grid in some parts of the capital.

The Civil Protection service has issued emergency alert messages to residents of Varybobi, Adames, Thrakomakedones and Olympic village, urging them to evacuate their homes. While people in the suburbs of Acharnes, Lykovrisi, Kato Kifissia and Metamorfosi were also advised to shut their windows and chimneys to prevent smoke and ash from getting into their homes.

The suburban railroad trains between Athens and Thessaloniki have been suspended due to the conditions created by the fire, Greek railway company TrainOSE said in a statement earlier.

Meanwhile, four out of the 40 active fronts in Greece on Tuesday led to evacuations of communities. These were at Kastania in southeast Peloponnese, Vassilitsi in southwest Peloponnese, Asklipion on the island of Kos, and Myrtia on the island of Evia.

Greece is hit by wildfires every summer. In 2018, 102 people died in the coastal resort of Mati near Athens in the country’s worst-ever forest inferno.