ATHENS – Forest fires in Greece burned more forest and homes in the northern outskirts of Athens and other parts of the country at night and forced more evacuations as more international aid was on the way.
Authorities struggled with 154 wildfires across the country on Friday, with the largest fronts still burning north of Athens, the island of Evia and the Peloponnese regions including Mani, Messinia and ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games.
“We are facing an even more difficult night,” Deputy Civil Defense Minister Nikos Hardalias told reporters. “Wildfire of unprecedented intensity and spread, all our forces along with volunteers are fighting day and night to save lives.”
In the northern part of the island of Evia near Athens, the coast guard rescued 650 people by boat as wildfires engulfed the shore for the fourth day.
As night wore on, firefighters continued to battle the flames north of Athens, which, fueled by strong winds, threatened to swallow up the Lake of Marathon and move to Mount Parnitha.
Greece, like the rest of Europe, is battling severe weather this summer. A week-long heatwave has simultaneously engulfed forests in many parts of the country and killed animals in thousands of acres of land in flames.
Tuesday’s fire engulfed the main highway connecting Athens with northern Greece and hundreds of firefighters with water-bombing planes struggled to control it.
A 38-year-old man died on Friday after falling from an electric pole in a suburb north of Athens, the hospital where he was treated.
In neighboring Turkey, officials are battling the country’s worst wildfire. Flames spread through its southwestern coastal areas, forcing thousands of people to evacuate. In Italy, hot winds fanned flames on the island of Sicily this week.
Police went door to door on Friday urging people to leave their homes north of Athens. Authorities ordered the evacuation of more suburbs north of Athens as more homes, cars and businesses were burned in the fire.
“We are witnessing a devastation of historic proportions and climate change is the root cause,” said Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Greece’s main political opposition. “We must support our frontline fighters and everyone who loses the effort of a lifetime in a matter of minutes.”
Temperatures have been in excess of 40 degrees Celsius throughout the week and on Friday, strong winds added to the flames.
The Athens power grid operator announced power cuts in the surrounding area to ensure that there were no major damages in mainland Greece.
In Gythio, in southern Peloponnese, a coast guard ship rescued 10 people from a beach as a fire broke out there. Locals made desperate calls for fire engines.
The civil defense minister said more foreign aid was on the way, with Switzerland sending three helicopters, joining other countries including France, Cyprus, Israel, Sweden and Ukraine, which sent firefighters and water-bombing aircraft.
The US Navy was sending P-8 aerial reconnaissance aircraft to support firefighting efforts.
In the Peloponnese, where firefighters rescued ancient Olympia from a fire this week, flames left behind scorched earth and dead animals.
“A catastrophe,” said farmer Marinos Anastopoulos. “The fire started in the afternoon with strong winds and houses burned down, lots of animals burned to death. Rabbits, sheep, dogs, everything.”