Athens Wildfires Burn for Second Day, Threatens Forests

A wildfire near the Greek capital is burning homes and forests and is expected to spread further on Wednesday as winds pick up speed.

(Bloomberg) — A wildfire near the Greek capital is burning homes and forests and is expected to spread further on Wednesday as winds pick up speed. 

The fires are the latest instance of extreme weather in a summer that has seen record-breaking temperatures, violent storms, flooding and wildfires stun Europe and North America. In July, wildfires in Greece ravaged homes and natural areas and led to the deaths of livestock and wild animals, when the country saw temperatures rise near to all-time high levels. 

Strong winds and an unusually long stretch of consecutive days with intense heat have given rise to a number of widlfires, some of which have been burning for the five past days. In northeast Greece, authorities found 18 dead people in a forest Tuesday after fire swept through the area, while in the past three days the fire service has been called in to extinguish 209 blazes.   

Conditions are very difficult, a spokesperson for the fires service said on Wednesday. Greece is receiving help through the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism and planes, helicopters and firefighters have been sent in from Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Romania and Sweden.

The fire that broke out in Fili yesterday moved southwards during the night and is burning properties and a forest on one of the last green mountains around Athens. A small municipality in the foothills, Fili is about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) northwest of the capital, yet smoke from the fire has drifted to central Athens, making it unpleasant to breathe even in enclosed spaces. 

Greek authorities have ordered the evacuation of several areas around the blaze, including three senior citizens’ homes in a northwest suburb, according to state-run ERT TV. On Wednesday morning more than 200 firefighters, seven planes and eight helicopters were working to contain the conflagration, while many residents are choosing to stay in the area to protect their homes.

In the northeastern region of Evros, a fire that started on Saturday morning is continuing to spread and is now heading west. Eighteen people were found dead in a scorched forest in the area on Tuesday, two of whom were children, according to authorities. 

As no residents have been reported missing from nearby villages, authorities said the victims were migrants who had crossed the nearby border with Turkey. In a separate incident, three civilians were arrested near Alexandropoulis for holding several migrants captive in a trailer, spurring debate on social media around the highly-charged issue.

Opposition parties are now criticizing Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for his handling of the fires, which in the past three days have burned over 99,000 acres. Mitsotakis plans to bring the issue up for debate in parliament, according to the government’s spokesman. 

Many regions are on high alert for wildfires on Wednesday, including the areas where blazes are already burning near Athens and in Alexandroupolis. The temperature is expected to rise to just under 40C, while winds will remain strong fueling the blazes.  

(Updates to reflect that homes are on fire, adds details throughout.)

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