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Hundreds flee as fire engulfs Athens suburbs

July 20, 2022

Thick brown plumes of smoke covered the horizon as a wildfire burned in mountainside suburbs outside the Greek capital for a second day. Meanwhile, Spain's prime minister said more than 500 have died amid intense heat.

Flames burning just outside of the city of Athens on a mountainside
Flames threatened the northern suburbs of Athens on WednesdayImage: Panagiotis Moschandreou/picture alliance/dpa/XinHua

Hundreds of people have been evacuated Wednesday as a wildfire threatened mountainside suburbs northeast of the Greek capital, Athens.

Firefighters battled through the night into Wednesday to contain the fire, but strong winds, dry conditions and high temperatures were making it difficult, according to firefighting services. 

The Fire Service said 15 planes and nine helicopters were involved in the firefighting effort on Mount Penteli, located to the northeast of downtown Athens. 

Nearly 500 firefighters and 120 vehicles were trying to stop the flames from spreading to the suburbs of Penteli, Pallini, Anthousa and Gerakas, which are home to some 29,000 people.

A woman covers her face as a wildfire burns in Pallini, near Athens, Greece
Several people have been taken to the hospital with breathing difficultiesImage: Costas Baltas/REUTERS

Later on Wednesday, Greek fire services spokesman Ioannis Artopoios told the Skai broadcaster that "the situation is a bit better." At the same time, he said emergency services are still attempting to "surround" numerous patches of the fires in order to extinguish them completely.       

State-owned public broadcaster ERT reported that three firefighters and nine residents had suffered mild injuries and were taken to the hospital with breathing difficulties.

 Fire burns next to houses
Smoke and flames climbed up a hill in an Athens suburb on WednesdayImage: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP/picture alliance

Police had moved some 600 people to safety overnight.

"It was insane, we did not know where to flee," an elderly resident of Anthousa told ERT.

"Embers were falling from the sky, I've never seen anything like it," he said.

Greece has so far been spared the scorching temperatures that have contributed to deadly wildfires in France, Portugal and Spain. However, heavy wind remains a problem in spreading fires. 

Smoke rises behind the Acropolis
The sky behind the Acropolis in Athens was blanketed in smoke on TuesdayImage: Petros Giannakouris/AP/picture alliance

Wildfires across Western Europe 

Firefighters battling twin fires in the Gironde region in southwest France said the blazes were being brought under control thanks to cooler weather, but had not been stopped completely. 

"Our assessment is generally positive. The situation improved overnight," said local fire service spokesman Arnaud Mendousse.

In Italy, 500 residents in the Tuscan community of Massarosa were brought to safety as firefighters continued to battle a large wildfire.

More than 1,200 firefighters are also combating forest blazes in Portugal. 

Authorities said fires were raging near Chave and Murca east of Porto. The approaching fires have driven more than a thousand people from their homes.

How is the heat wave gripping Europe?

Portugal has also reported more than 1,000 deaths due to the current heat wave. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said more than 500 people have died in Spain during the heat wave.   

The London Fire Brigade had its busiest day since World War II on Tuesday, as firefighters received more than 2,600 calls and at one point were fighting 12 fires simultaneously, said Mayor Sadiq Khan.

At least 41 properties were destroyed.

Despite lower temperatures, the fire danger remains high because hot, dry weather has parched grassland around the city, Khan said.

lo,wd/wmr (AFP, AP, dpa)

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