Strong winds reignite fire near Athens as heatwave sears Greece

Authorities issue evacuation orders for several areas in West Attica, as firefighters battle flames in different locations across Greece.

A fireman douses flames on a wildfire at Panorama settlement near Agioi Theodori, some 70 kms west of Athens on July 18, 2023. - Europe braced for new high temperatures on July 18, 2023, under a relentless heatwave and wildfires that have scorched swathes of the Northern Hemisphere, forcing the evacuation of 1,200 children close to a Greek seaside resort. Health authorities have sounded alarms from North America to Europe and Asia, urging people to stay hydrated and shelter from the burning sun, in a stark reminder of the effects of global warming. (Photo by Valerie GACHE / AFP)
A firefighter douses flames on a wildfire at Panorama settlement near Agioi Theodoroi, some 70km (43 miles) west of Athens [Valerie Gache/AFP]

Firefighters in Greece are battling a reignited wildfire that has triggered a series of new evacuations, as authorities braced for more of the extreme weather that has brought searing temperatures across southern Europe.

Authorities had declared the wildfire contained overnight but firefighters lost control later on Thursday when the winds gathered strength.

“It’s day four of these wildfires; they had contained the flames and then as the afternoon progressed, the wind picked up again and that’s when the reigniting of fires happened,” Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from near the smouldering ruins of a chemical plant in Voiotia, said.

The huge fire has already burned 35 square kilometres (13.5 square miles) of forest and scrubland.

In his latest news briefing on Thursday afternoon, Fire Service spokesman Yiannis Artopoios said there had been 62 forest fires across Greece over the previous 24 hours.

He added the extreme weather conditions were creating “dynamic fire fronts”, noting that authorities had issued evacuation orders for several areas across West Attica.

Greece wildfires force thousands to flee seaside resorts
Fire burns trees on a mountain near Agioi Theodori about 60 kilometres west of Athens on Monday, July 17, 2023 [Petros Giannakouris/AP]

Some residents ignored latest the orders to try and save their homes.

Chrysoula Renieri, 72, said relatives had helped her try to save the family home near Loutraki, a resort town 81km (50 miles) west of Athens, but the wildfire cut off water in the area.

“It’s all gone. We have suffered too much damage,” Renieri said, standing under a blackened and buckled ceiling in the gutted home.

Elsewhere in Greece, a state of emergency was declared on the island of Rhodes, where firefighters were trying to contain a major blaze that also prompted authorities to also evacuation orders for several mountain areas. A major fire was also burning in Laconia, on the southeastern part of the Peloponnese Peninsula.

“So far there have been no fatalities, but people are extremely worried,” said Dekker. “There has been international help from the EU sending firefighters and aircrafts to help with dumping water on those areas,” she added.

“But because the land is so arid and the area affected is so vast, it is extremely easy to reignite [the fires].”

Stifling heat across Europe’s Mediterranean south created a high or very high risk of fires in Greece, Italy and Spain.

Weather forecasts said temperatures could reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the Fire Service and civil protection authority would remain on alert as a new heatwave moved east across the country.

“The hard times are clearly not over yet,” Mitsotakis said. “We are facing another heat wave and a possible strengthening of the winds. So, absolute vigilance and absolute readiness are required over the next few days.”

Greek authorities also said that archaeological sites, including the Acropolis in Athens, will be closed during the hottest hours of the day due to a new heatwave.

Tourists exit the ancient Acropolis of Athens as the Greek culture ministry shut down the monument most of the day because of heat on Friday, July 14, 2023 [Petros Giannakouris/AP]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies