Blaze northwest of Athens still raging; 2 suspected arsonists arrested

Blaze northwest of Athens still raging; 2 suspected arsonists arrested

Hundreds of firefighters backed by water-dropping flames were battling a large forest fire burning for the second day Tuesday that has led to the evacuation of a care home and several villages northwest of Athens.

The fire in the Vilia area, which was burning through dense forest, began on Monday, shortly after another wildfire broke out to the southeast of the Greek capital, in the Keratea area. The two were the most severe among dozens of wildfires to break out that day across the country, the fire department said.

Hundreds of wildfires have burned across Greece this month, fueled by the country’s longest and most severe heat wave in decades that left its forests and shrubland bone dry.

Arson has been suspected as being the cause of some. On Tuesday, police announced they had arrested two people on suspicion of setting two fires, both of which were quickly extinguished.

The first was a 54-year-old Greek man who allegedly used a lighter to set fire to papers and dried vegetation in shrubland on the outskirts of a village west of Athens on Sunday. The man left the scene on foot and was detained by a passing police patrol, authorities said.

The second case involved a 29-year-old foreign woman, whose nationality was not released. She is accused of setting dried leaves alight on the ground near a tree in a square in central Athens. Police in the area extinguished the flames and arrested the woman.

Intense heat and wildfires have also struck other Mediterranean countries in recent weeks, with fires killing at least 75 people in Algeria and 16 in Turkey. Italy has also seen several fire-related deaths. Worsening drought and heat have also fueled wildfires this summer in the western United States and in Russia’s northern Siberia region.

Greece’s fire department said 330 firefighters with 115 vehicles were fighting the Vilia blaze Tuesday, with air support provided by five water-dropping planes and six helicopters. The firefighters include 143 from Poland, sent to the country as part of a major deployment of foreign assistance from European and Middle Eastern countries as Greece has struggled to contain massive wildfires over the past two weeks.

Firefighters were also still operating to secure the boundaries of major blazes in a national park on the northern outskirts of Athens and the island of Evia which broke out in early August. Others, including 40 Austrian firefighters, were fighting two major fires in the southern Greek region of the Peloponnese. [AP]

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