Two major forest fires were raging out of control on either side of the Greek capital Monday, burning houses, prompting residents to flee and turning the sky over Athens a hazy orange from the smoke.
The first fire broke out in a pine forest near the seaside settlement of Kineta 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Athens between the capital and Corinth. At least 150 firefighters were on the scene while five water-dropping planes and seven helicopters helped to fight the blaze from the air.
Strong winds with frequently changing gusts were hampering firefighting efforts, however.
Three communities were evacuated and the blaze shut down a nearly 20-kilometer (13-mile) section on two highways linking the Peloponnese with central Greece. Thick smoke reduced visibility on the highway to mere meters (yards).
Several houses were in flames, footage from the Greek TV station Skai showed. Some residents used garden hoses to try to save their properties, while others escaped in cars and on mopeds.
Hours after the blaze began, flecks of ash swirled down onto central Athens.
Authorities were sending in 17 more firefighting vehicles along with 45 firefighters from elsewhere in Greece, as well as a 30-man firefighting crew from the northern city of Thessaloniki. Other towns and cities were sending water trucks and volunteer firefighters.
It was not immediately clear how the fire started in the Geraneia mountains near Kineta.
The second major fire broke out Monday afternoon in the Penteli area northeast of Athens. Local authorities said they were evacuating children's summer camps, while dozens of homes and cars were reportedly destroyed.
The sky over the Greek port of Rafina, which serves ferries to some of the Cycladic islands, turned black from the smoke.
The fire department also said a third fire was burning farmlands and woods on the southern island of Crete. Two helicopters there were dropping water from the air to help dozens of firefighters.
Forest fires are common in Greece during the hot, dry summers and the country has been facing high temperatures recently of up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). [AP]