New blaze breaks out southeast of Athens

New blaze breaks out southeast of Athens

Yet more wildfires broke out in Greece Monday, with two blazes triggering evacuation alerts for settlements to the southeast and northwest of the Greek capital.

Fanned by strong winds, the first blaze, which broke out Monday morning in the Keratea region southeast of Athens quickly burned through shrubland and was headed toward a national park in the Sounion area.

Three settlements in the area were ordered evacuated, while the fire department sent dozens of firefighters, as well as six water-dropping planes and four helicopters. Local officials appealed to people not to approach the area.

On the other side of the capital to the northwest, another blaze broke out in the Vilia area just after noon, triggering an evacuation alert of another three settlements. Strong winds were predicted to last until at least the evening, potentially hampering the firefighting effort.

Greece has been roiled by hundreds of wildfires for about two weeks, with the blazes coming on the heels of the country’s most severe heatwave in decades that left its forests tinder dry.

Tens of thousands of hectares of forest and farmland have been destroyed, homes and businesses have been burned and thousands of people were evacuated by land and by sea. One volunteer firefighter died, and four have been hospitalized, including two in critical condition in intensive care units.

The fires stretched Greece’s response capabilities to the limit, leading the government to appeal for international help. About 24 European and Middle Eastern countries sent firefighters, helicopters, planes and vehicles. By Monday most had left, although 40 Austrian firefighters remained in the southern Greek region of the Peloponnese, where two major fires have been burning for several days.

Several Mediterranean countries have suffered intense heat and quickly spreading wildfires in recent weeks, including Turkey, where at least eight people have died, and Italy. In Algeria, wildfires in the mountainous Berber region have killed at least 69 people.

Worsening drought and heat have also fueled wildfires this summer in the Western United States and in Russia’s northern Siberia region. Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme weather events.

Two major fires which began in early August, one on the island of Evia and one in a national park north of the Greek capital, were still smoldering Monday, with firefighters deployed to secure their perimeters, the fire department said. [AP]

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