Hundreds of residents living near a forest area north of Athens fled their homes as a wildfire reached residential areas, fuelled by Greece’s worst heatwave in decades.
The blaze on Tuesday sent smoke over the capital and prompted multiple evacuations near Tatoi, 20km (12.5 miles) north of Athens. Many residents left their homes in cars and on motorcycles and headed towards the capital as smoke blanketed residential areas.
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“It is a large fire and it will take a lot of work to get this under control,” greater Athens regional governor George Patoulis told state-run ERT television.
“People in the area should be on stand-by. We are asking members of the public in the fire-affected areas to keep the windows of their homes closed because the smoke is very dense.”
As the heatwave scorching the eastern Mediterranean intensified, temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit) in parts of the Greek capital.
The extreme weather has fuelled deadly wildfires in Turkey, as well as blazes in Greece, Albania, Italy and across the region.
Tourist sites closed
The fires prompted Greek basketball star Giannis Antetokounmpo to cancel celebrations planned in Athens for the recent NBA championship he won with the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We hope there are no victims from these fires, and of course we will postpones today’s celebration,” Antetokounmpo wrote in a tweet.
Earlier, authorities closed the Acropolis and other ancient sites during afternoon hours.
The site, which is normally open for its summer hours from 8am to 8pm local time (05:00 – 17:00 GMT), will have reduced hours through Friday, closing between midday and 5pm (09:00 – 14:00 GMT).
The extreme heat has strained the national power supply and fuelled the wildfires.
Experts have warned that climate change was increasing both the frequency and intensity of the wildfires.
The current wildfires can be associated with not only higher temperatures but also lower precipitation. Dry wood burns more easily and more quickly, making the wildfires more severe and allowing them to spread more quickly.
Five water-dropping planes and five helicopters were involved in the firefighting effort near Athens, including a Beriev Be-200 amphibious aircraft leased from Russia.
The blaze damaged electricity pylons, adding further strain on the electricity network already under pressure due to widespread use of air-conditioning.
The Greek Fire Service maintained an alert for most of the country Tuesday and Wednesday, while public and some private services shifted operating hours to allow for afternoon closures.
Several villages were also evacuated Tuesday in coastal areas of the southern Peloponnese region.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said this week that Greece was facing the “worst heatwave” since 1987.
In neighbouring Turkey, the worst fires in at least a decade have engulfed parts of the country, claiming the lives of eight people and forcing hundreds to evacuate in southern areas popular with tourists.