Firefighting planes resume flights over wildfire north of Athens

An helicopter drops water over a fire in Varibobi area, northern Athens, Greece, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Firefighting planes were resuming operation at first light Wednesday to tackle a major forest fire on the northern outskirts of Athens which raced into residential areas the previous day, forcing thousands to flee their homes amid Greece’s worst heatwave in decades. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
8:09am, Wed 04 Aug 2021
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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.

A burned car is seen after a wildfire in Varibobi area, northern Athens, Greece, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. More than 500 firefighters struggled through the night to contain a large forest blaze on the outskirts of Athens, which raced into residential areas Tuesday, forcing thousands to flee. It was the worst of 81 wildfires that broke out in Greece over the past 24 hours, amid one of the country’s most intense heatwaves in decades. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

“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.

Flames burn a forrest during a wildfire in Adames area, in northern Athens, Greece, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021.Thousands of people fled their homes north of Athens on Tuesday as a wildfire broke out of the forest and reached residential areas. The hurried evacuations took place just as Greece grappled with its worst heat wave in decades. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

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.

Flames burn on the mountain near Limni village on the island of Evia, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Athens, Greece, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. Greece Tuesday grappled with the worst heatwave in decades that strained the national power supply and fueled wildfires near Athens and elsewhere in southern Greece. As the heat wave scorching the eastern Mediterranean intensified, temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit) in parts of the Greek capital. (AP Photo/Michael Pappas)

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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