NEWS

Greek villages, monasteries evacuated as fire damages homes

greek-villages-monasteries-evacuated-as-fire-damages-homes

A large wildfire in Greece gutted and damaged dozens of homes and prompted evacuations Thursday as it tore through rugged forest terrain. The fire caused no injuries but sent a huge cloud of smoke and ash across southern Greece, including Athens where it obscured the view of the Acropolis.

Fire department officials said 17 water-dropping planes and three helicopters were involved to try to contain the blaze about 70 kilometers (45 miles) west of Athens that started outside the resort town of Loutraki.

Overnight and later Thursday, authorities issued evacuation orders for 18 settlements, in areas with many vacation homes. Two Orthodox Christian monasteries and one convent were also evacuated.

The fire destroyed power lines, causing widespread blackouts, and reached a nearby coastline and damaged several fishing boats. The Civil Protection Authority activated a cell-phone-enabled alert service to help the evacuation effort.

Fire department spokesman Lt. Col. Vassilis Vathrakoyiannis said more than 180 firefighters were deployed Thursday, with the effort focused on stopping the blaze reaching the town of Megara, where more than 30,000 people live.

“The fire was hard to deal with overnight. But the use of aerial means after daybreak was key. The situation did improve after that point but it remains dangerous with fires rekindling at many locations,” Vathrakoyiannis said.

He said a lull in high winds also helped firefighters but officials note that winds of up to 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph) were expected before nightfall.

Wildfires are common during Greece’s hot summers. A blaze that hit coastal areas east of Athens in July 2018, around the seaside resort of Mati, killed at least 102 people. [AP]