Thousands of people flee their homes outside Athens as heat fuels forest fires – .

Thousands of people flee their homes outside Athens as heat fuels forest fires – .

TATOI, Greece (AP) – More than 500 firefighters struggled overnight Tuesday to contain a large forest fire on the outskirts of Athens, which swept through residential areas, forcing thousands to flee. It is the worst of 81 forest fires that have broken out in Greece in the past 24 hours, amid one of the country’s worst heat waves in decades.

Civil protection chief Nikos Hardalias said the fire north of Athens was “very dangerous” and was exacerbated by strong winds and drought conditions due to the heat.

No serious injuries were reported and authorities said several buildings had been damaged.

“We continue to fight hour by hour, our top priority being to save human lives,” said Hardalias. “We will do it all night. “

“These are crucial hours,” said Hardalias. “Our country is going through one of the worst heat waves of the past 40 years.

The blaze sent a huge cloud of smoke over Athens, causing multiple evacuations near Tatoi, 20 kilometers (12 1/2 miles) north and forcing the partial closure of the main north-south highway to Greece. Residents left their homes by cars and motorcycles, often with pets, heading towards the capital amid a blanket of smoke.

As the flames approached their homes, residents were seen running towards their cars, their faces covered in wet rags to protect them from the thick smoke. A group stopped to help staff at a riding school push their horses into trucks to escape the flames.

Firefighters went from house to house to make sure evacuation orders were being carried out. Authorities said no one was missing, and Greek media said six people needed treatment for light breathing problems.

As the heat wave searing the eastern Mediterranean intensified, temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit) in parts of the Greek capital. Extreme weather conditions fueled deadly forest fires in Turkey and soaring in Italy, Greece, Albania and throughout the region.

Hardalias said the temperature reached a high of 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Tatoi region.

Forest fires also raged in other parts of Greece, prompting the evacuation of villages in Mani and Vassilitsa in the southern Peloponnese region, as well as on the islands of Euboea and Kos, authorities said. . A total of 40 fires were raging Tuesday night.

The fires prompted Greek basketball star Giannis Antetokounmpo to cancel planned celebrations in Athens for the NBA championship he recently won with the Milwaukee Bucks.

“We hope there will be no casualties from these fires, and of course we will postpone today’s celebration,” Antetokounmpo wrote in a tweet.

Earlier, authorities closed the Acropolis and other ancient sites during the afternoon. The site, which is normally open in the summer from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., will have reduced hours until Friday, closing between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m.

The extreme heat, described by authorities as the worst in Greece since 1987, has strained the national power supply and fueled forest fires.

The manager of the national grid said that the power supply to part of the capital was “in danger” after the closure of part of the transmission system, damaged and threatened by fires.

Five dropped planes and five helicopters were involved in fighting the fire near Athens, including a Beriev Be-200 amphibious aircraft leased from Russia. They ceased their activities after dark for security reasons.

The blaze damaged power pylons, adding further strain to the already pressurized power grid due to the widespread use of air conditioning.

Greek firefighters maintained an alert for most of the country on Tuesday and Wednesday, while public services and some private services changed their hours of operation to allow for afternoon closures.

Hardalias called on the public to be very vigilant.

“Because the heatwave will continue for the next few days, please avoid any activity that could start a fire,” he said.


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Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.


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