Wildfires outside Athens have forced thousands to flee seaside resorts, closed highways and gutted vacation homes, as high winds pushed flames through hillside scrub and pine forests parched by days of extreme heat.
Authorities issued evacuation orders for at least six seaside communities as two major wildfires edged closer to summer resort towns and gusts of wind hit 70km/h (45mph).
The army, police special forces and volunteer rescuers freed retirees from their homes, rescued horses from a stable, and helped monks flee a monastery threatened by the flames.
Before nightfall, water-dropping planes and helicopters tackled the flames near Lagonisi, some 40km (25 miles) southeast of the capital. The second large wildfire broke out in a wooded area near the resort town of Loutraki, some 90km (55 miles) west of Athens, where a children’s summer camp and rehabilitation centre for seniors were evacuated, local officials said.
Fire Service spokesman Yiannis Artopios said the strong and changeable winds and mountainous terrain in which both fires broke out were slowing the firefighting effort.
“The conditions are changing constantly and this has to be matched by our response. We have ordered multiple evacuations,” he said. The evacuees gathered along the coastline or were put up in schools and hotels, while coastguard vessels were dispatched to smoke-heavy beachfronts to assist if needed.
On a visit to Brussels, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described the risk posed by wildfires this month as “extremely difficult” to deal with.
“We have always had wildfires and we always will have them. But with the effects of the climate crisis, we are experiencing fires with increasing intensity,” Mitsotakis said, speaking on the margins of talks between leaders from the European Union and Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Greater Athens and much of southern Greece were on the second highest level of alert for wildfires Monday and Tuesday following a four-day heatwave that eased over the weekend. More heat wave temperatures are expected later in the week.