A forest fire outside Athens as hundreds of fires ravage Greece

  • Minister: More than 350 fires have broken out since Friday
  • Fires force hundreds to evacuate
  • A fire near Athens burns cars, homes, and factories

ATHENS, Aug 23 (Reuters) – Greek firefighters backed by aircraft battled a blaze that raged outside Athens for a second day on Wednesday, one of hundreds ravaging the country where wildfires have already killed 20 people this week.

Several hundred have fled their homes across the country since fires broke out in northern Greece on Saturday, fanned by heat and strong winds in the second major outbreak of summer.

Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said 355 forest fires had broken out since Friday, including 209 in the past 48 hours. He added that the firefighting teams are making “extraordinary efforts” to contain them.

The fire brigade warned of the possibility of more fires, and its spokesman, Ioannis Artopios, said conditions remained “difficult, and in some cases very severe”.

About 20 km north of Athens, more than 200 firefighters backed by volunteers along with 65 vehicles and 15 aircraft, some sent from Sweden and Germany, battled a blaze that started early Tuesday near the village of Fili in the foothills of the Athens mountains. Mount Parnitha and spread towards the city of Manidi.

The capital has been engulfed in smoke and ash since the fire broke out on Tuesday.

By Wednesday, about 150 people had been evacuated by bus from three nursing homes in Menide to hotels or other care facilities.

Police ordered other residents to leave as a firefighting helicopter flew overhead and dropped water on the flames.

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One of the volunteers carried an icon of the Virgin Mary from a burning monastery, and its yard turned black and covered with ashes, while police officers quickly removed large gas canisters from the building.

“The fire went out for half an hour…but with this very strong wind, it would flare up and then stop again,” Dimitris Arminis, 60, told Reuters.

An immigration ministry official said about 700 migrants held in the nearby Amygdalisa facility had been evacuated to another camp.

The fire caused destruction and burned homes and cars in Philly, forcing residents to flee on foot, while some covered their faces with their clothes because of the smoke.

Volunteers loaded the sheep into car boxes to save them.

The worst summer for fires

In the northern Evros region, which borders Turkey, fires have been burning for a fifth day.

Rescuers discovered 18 burnt bodies on Tuesday, believed to be migrants, in an area near Dadia Forest, a common route for people from the Middle East and Asia trying to enter the European Union.

In the nearby port city of Alexandroupolis, dozens of hospital patients, some on stretchers and others on IV drips, were evacuated on a ferry.

A satellite image broadcast on state television showed smoke from the Evros fires drifting across the country to the Ionian Islands in the northwest, not far from Italy.

Summer wildfires are common in Greece, but this year they have been exacerbated by unusually hot, dry and windy weather that scientists link to climate change.

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“This summer is the worst since meteorological data began to be collected,” Kikilias said.

In July, tens of thousands of foreign tourists were evacuated from the island of Rhodes, where a fire raged for a week, burning hotels and resorts as well as swaths of land.

“In my 32 years of service, I have never faced such severe conditions,” Fire Brigade Chief Giorgos Bornaras told a news conference.

(Reporting by Carolina Tagaris and Lefteris Papadimas in Athens; Reporting by Jaafar for The Arabic Bulletin) Alexandros Avramidis, Vidia Grulovic in Evros, Writing by Carolina Tagaris; Editing by Edmund Blair and John Stonestreet

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