Wildfires rage near Greek capital, houses damaged

KOUVARAS, Greece (Reuters) -Villagers were ordered to leave their homes as two separate wildfires fanned by strong winds damaged houses southeast and west of Athens on Monday, authorities said.

Several houses were damaged by a blaze that broke out in the village of Kouvaras, about 27 km (17 miles) from the Greek capital, and spread fast to nearby settlements, a Greek fire service official said.

Up to 150 firemen, 40 fire engines and 11 aircraft were trying to control the flames amid gale-force winds.

Greek television showed a house and several cars gutted by the blaze, and white and black smoke billowing from burning vegetation.

“It’s a difficult day with several fires (burning) across the country,” Greek Fire Service spokesperson Ioannis Artopoios told a televised briefing, adding that fire brigade services have been placed on standby duty in the wider Athens area.

Residents of at least two villages, a summer camp and a rehabilitation centre were evacuated in another wildfire close to the seaside resort of Loutraki, about 50 miles west of Athens, the fire service and local authorities said.

Some 59 firemen with 19 fire engines and seven aircraft have been deployed to contain that blaze.

The Greek meteorological service has warned of a high danger of fire, just as the country is recovering from the first major heatwave of the summer.

A second heatwave is forecast to affect the Mediterranean nation later this week.

Changing weather conditions associated with global warming will further increase the danger of fire in Europe, according to research by the European Commission.

(Reporting by Stamos Prousalis and Stelios Misinas; Additional reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Writing by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Sharon Singleton.)