Firefighting planes resume flights over fires north of Athens


VARIBOBI, Greece (AP) – Firefighting planes resumed dawn operations in Greece on Wednesday to tackle a major forest fire in the northern suburbs of Athens that has forced thousands to flee their homes the day before amid the country’s worst heat wave in decades.

The fire in the Varibobi and Tatoi suburbs of the Greek capital was the worst of 81 forest fires that broke out in the country in 24 hours, from Monday evening to Tuesday evening.

Five dropped planes and nine helicopters were helping more than 500 firefighters, soldiers and numerous groups of volunteers on the ground, the fire department said.

“It was another exceptionally difficult night,” Civil Protection Chief Nikos Hardalias said during a visit to a mobile fire brigade coordination center in the region on Wednesday morning. He said firefighters managed to reduce four active fire fronts to one overnight.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” he said.

The blaze was fueled by dry tinder-like conditions caused by a prolonged heat wave that started last week and raised temperatures to 45 degrees Celsius (113 F).

There were no reports of fatalities or serious injuries. The blaze burned down homes, businesses and vehicles and sent a large cloud of smoke over Athens on Tuesday evening. The government has announced that it will provide hotel rooms for local residents until they can return home.

On Tuesday, residents evacuated by car and on foot, while equestrian centers in the region ran to evacuate the horses from the path of the flames. Horses, coming out of their stables, wandered through the streets.

The leafy suburbs of Varibobi and Tatoi lie at the foot of Mount Parnitha, next to large forests made up mostly of pine trees. The blaze, which started Tuesday afternoon inside the forest, quickly passed through the flammable pine and reached the main plaza of Varibobi.

Some locals have taken to social media to provide shelter for animals affected by the fire.

In addition to the fire north of Athens, two other large forest fires were still burning on Wednesday morning, one on the island of Evia and the other in the southwest of the Peloponnese.

Firefighters said 95 firefighters, two planes, four ground crews and 35 vehicles battled the blazes in Evia, while 74 firefighters, three ground crews, 22 vehicles and a helicopter battled the blaze in the Messinia region. of the Peloponnese.

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

The heatwave is expected to continue in Greece until the end of the week.


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