Thousands flee to Greece as forest fires sweep across the Mediterranean
- Athens’ northern suburbs threatened by fires
- Hundreds of people evacuated by boat from the beaches of the island of Evia
- Devastated forests, animals killed as the flames advance
ATHENS, Aug.6 (Reuters) – Police went door-to-door on Friday to urge people to leave their homes north of Athens, and emergency teams have struggled to prevent wildfires from spreading to more towns as scorching winds fueled fires across Greece for the fourth day.
Greece, like much of the rest of Europe, has struggled with extreme weather conditions this summer. A week-long heat wave – its worst in 30 years – has sparked simultaneous forest fires in many parts of the country, burning houses and killing animals as flames tear apart thousands of acres of land.
At least 56 active fronts burned across the country on Friday, from the Peloponnese in the west to the island of Evia near Athens, where hundreds had to be evacuated by boat as flames burned through forests to the shore.
“The fire in Attica is dangerous. It is unpredictable,” Greek firefighter federation chief Dimitris Stathopoulos told Skai TV, referring to the wider region which includes the Greek capital.
Thousands of people have fled their homes since forest fires in the foothills of Mount Parnitha, just north of Athens, came to life on Thursday evening, and authorities ordered the evacuation of several suburbs.
“We may have to spend the night in the car if we can’t find a friend to put us up,” said Yorgos, 26, who had to leave his home in the suburb of Polydendri.
The blaze, which started on Tuesday, burned around the main highway connecting Athens to northern Greece and hundreds of firefighters with water bombers battled to contain it.
“The conditions are extremely dangerous,” said Deputy Minister of Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias.
A 38-year-old man was killed on Friday when an electricity pylon fell in a northern suburb of Athens, the hospital where he was treated said.
In neighboring Turkey, authorities are battling the country’s worst forest fires, and flames sweeping through its southwestern coastal regions have forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. In Italy, hot winds have fanned the flames on the island of Sicily this week.
Temperatures have been topping 40 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) all week and there were no disruptions on Friday with high winds that spread the flames further.
The Athens power grid operator has announced phased power cuts in the surrounding region to ensure there are no major blackouts in mainland Greece.
In Gytheio, in the southern Peloponnese, a coastguard ship rescued 10 people on a beach on Friday as a fire broke out there. Residents have made desperate calls for firefighting planes.
In the Peloponnese, where firefighters rescued Ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympics, from a blaze this week, the flames left scorched earth and dead animals.
“A disaster,” farmer Marinos Anastopoulos said. “The fire started around noon with swirling winds and houses were set on fire, many animals were burned alive. Rabbits, sheep, dogs, everything.”
In Evia, near Athens, coast guard ships assisted by tourist boats have recovered 631 people since Thursday evening on three beaches of the island, where flames have burned a large area of pine forest since Tuesday and reached the sea.
Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Karolina Tagaris, George Georgiopoulos, Giorgos Moutafis and Rami Ayyub; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Giles Elgood, William Maclean
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