Big blaze threatens village outside Athens

Big blaze threatens village outside Athens

A major wildfire northwest of the Greek capital devoured large tracts of pine forest for a third day and threatened a large village as hundreds of firefighters, assisted by water-dropping planes and helicopters, battled the flames on Wednesday.

The blaze in the Vilia area broke out Monday shortly after another wildfire started to the southwest of Athens. Several other villages and a nearby nursing home received evacuation orders.

On Wednesday, a shift in the wind direction drove the flames towards Vilia, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Athens. Greek media said outlying buildings were damaged, but no injuries were reported and no evacuation order was issued for the village.

Clouds of smoke obscured the sun, which cast an otherworldly, orange light over the capital.

Local mayor Christos Stathis told Open TV that the fire was within a few dozen yards from Vilia, and appealed for firefighting aircraft to be deployed to the spot.

Hundreds of wildfires have burned across Greece this month, fueled by parched forests and shrubland from the country’s most severe heat wave in decades.

The blazes have stretched the country’s firefighting capabilities to the limit, leading the government to appeal for international help, including through a European Union emergency response system. About two dozen European and Middle Eastern countries responded, sending planes, helicopters, vehicles and hundreds of firefighters.

Intense heat and wildfires have also struck other Mediterranean countries. Firefighters in France worked to contain a forest fire along the French Riviera on Tuesday, and recent wildfires have killed at least 75 people in Algeria and 16 in Turkey. Worsening drought and heat have also fueled wildfires in the western United States and in Russia’s northern Siberia region.

Greece’s fire department said 370 firefighters, including 143 from Poland, were deployed at the Vilia fire on Wednesday, along with 130 vehicles, eight helicopters and three planes. The army, volunteer firefighters and local authorities also provided assistance.

By midday Wednesday, an estimated 7,500 hectares (18.500 acres) of forest had been destroyed in the area.

Satellite imagery from Tuesday published on Twitter by the European Commission’s defense industry and space department showed a giant plume of smoke from the Vilia fire extending south for hundreds of kilometers along the entire length of the Peloponnese. [AP]

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