Authorities order evacuations as wildfires rage near Athens

Gusts of wind up to 70km/h (45mph) push flames through scrub and forest parched by extreme heat.

Authorities have issued evacuation orders for several seaside communities near Athens after wildfires broke out near the Greek capital during a heatwave.

One blaze raged on Monday in Kouvaras, about 50km (30 miles) southeast of Athens, and was threatening other settlements, the civil protection service said.

Several houses were damaged by the fire, a Greek fire service official said. Local media also showed footage of charred vehicles and thick white smoke billowing from burning vegetation.

“It’s a difficult fire. The winds are really strong,” said Ioannis Artopoios, spokesman for the Greek Fire Service.

He added that up to 150 firefighters, including 31 from Romania, 40 fire engines, seven aircraft and four helicopters were trying to control the flames driven by gale-force winds.

“Due to high winds, the blaze spread across 12 kilometres in two hours,” Artopoios told a televised briefing later in the day, adding that police had detained a person suspected of arson.

Second blaze

The fire service reported a second large wildfire in a wooded area near the resort town of Loutraki, about 90km (55 miles) west of Athens, where at least two villages, a children’s summer camp and rehabilitation centre for seniors were evacuated, the fire service and local authorities said.

Local media quoted Loutraki Mayor Giorgos Gkionis as saying that 1,200 children from the holiday camp had been evacuated.

The evacuations were ordered as gusts of wind up to 70 kilometres per hour (45 miles per hour) pushed flames through hillside scrub and pine forests parched by extreme heat.

The fire burns olive groves at Lagonisi area, Greece, 17 July 2023. Firefighting forces are battling a blaze that broke out in the Kouvaras area in Attica, while a warning was sent via the emergency number 112 to evacuate several settlements in southeast Attica. A force of 55 firefighters and 20 fire engines, two units on foot and 31 Romanian firefighters with five water tankers have been deployed to put out the fire, assisted by six fire-fighting aircraft and four helicopters from the air. EPA-EFE/YANNIS KOLESIDIS
A wildfire burns olive groves in Lagonisi, Greece [Yannis Kolesidis/EPA-EFE]

Greece has been gripped by a heatwave since last week with temperatures reaching 44C (111F) in the centre of the country. Greater Athens and much of southern Greece were on the second highest alert for wildfires at the beginning of the week due to the sweltering temperatures, which eased over the weekend.

In Athens, the Acropolis, one of Greece’s top tourist attractions, closed during the hottest hours of the day for three consecutive days through Sunday as temperatures rose as high at 40F (104F).

Temperatures are forecast to drop in Greece by 2C to 4C (4F to 7F) by Wednesday, but a new heatwave is to follow from Thursday, and local highs of 43C (109F) are expected, according to the Hellenic National Meteorological Service.

“We are in the middle of the period of fighting fires, and the conditions expected will be particularly difficult and favour forest fires,” Artopoios said.

Wildfires in Greece
A house is on fire during a wildfire in Lagonisi [Yannis Kolesidis/EPA-EFE]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies