A major wildfire northwest of the Greek capital devoured large tracts of pine forest for a third day Wednesday and threatened a large village as hundreds of firefighters, assisted by water-dropping planes and helicopters, battled the flames.
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 winds drove the flames towards Vilia, 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Athens. Greek media said several 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.
The causes of the fires have not been officially established, although more than a dozen people have been arrested on suspicion of arson.
State ERT TV reported that a 14-year-old boy was arrested Wednesday in central Greece on suspicion of setting at least 13 fires in recent days – including one that raged out of control destroying homes and forest land. Quoting local officials, ERT said the suspect was caught on CCTV cycling away from spots where fires had started. The boy’s parents were arrested for neglect, ERT said.
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 430 firefighters, including 143 from Poland, were deployed at the Vilia fire on Wednesday, along with 130 vehicles, 19 helicopters and 10 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 showed a giant plume of smoke from the Vilia fire extending south for hundreds of kilometers along the entire length of the Peloponnese. [AP]