Firefighting planes resume flights over wildfire north of Athens

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Athens; Greece, Wildfire
via Sky News

Firefighting planes have resumed operations to tackle a major forest fire on the northern outskirts of Athens that forced thousands to flee their homes on Tuesday amid the country’s worst heatwave in decades.

The fire in the Varibobi and Tatoi suburbs of the Greek capital was the worst of 81 wildfires that broke out around the country in 24 hours from late on Monday.

Five water-dropping planes and nine helicopters were helping more than 500 firefighters, soldiers and numerous volunteer groups on the ground, the fire department said.

“It was another exceptionally difficult night,” Civil Protection chief Nikos Hardalias said while visiting a fire department mobile co-ordination centre on Wednesday morning.

He said firefighters had reduced four active fire fronts to one overnight.

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

The fire was fuelled by tinder-dry conditions caused by a protracted heatwave that began last week and sent temperatures soaring to 45C.

There were no reports of deaths or serious injuries. The fire burned homes, businesses and vehicles, and sent a large cloud of smoke over Athens on Tuesday night.

The government announced it would provide hotel rooms for local residents for as long as they are unable to return to their homes.

On Tuesday, residents left the area in cars and on foot, while riding schools in the area raced to move horses from the path of the flames.

The leafy suburbs of Varibobi and Tatoi lie at the foot of Mount Parnitha, next to large forests of mainly pine trees.

The fire, which began on Tuesday afternoon inside the forest, quickly raced through the flammable pine and reached the main square of Varibobi.

Some nearby residents took to social media to offer shelter for animals affected by the fire.

Apart from the fire north of Athens, two more major forest fires were still burning on Wednesday morning, one on the island of Evia and one in the south-western Peloponnese.

The fire department said 95 firefighters, two aircraft, four ground teams and 35 vehicles were battling the flames in Evia, while 74 firefighters, three ground teams, 22 vehicles and one helicopter were operating in the Messinia area of the Peloponnese.

As the heatwave scorching the eastern Mediterranean intensified, temperatures reached 42C in parts of the capital. The extreme weather has also fuelled deadly wildfires in Turkey and blazes in Italy and Albania.

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

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