Fire in Greece leads to evacuations near Athens

Fire in Greece leads to evacuations near Athens

A helicopter sprays water in an attempt to extinguish a forest fire that broke out on June 19, 2024 in Kitsi, a southern suburb of Athens. An early heat wave has already gripped Greece, prompting authorities there to close the Acropolis of Athens and other tourist attractions during the heat wave. hottest hours of the day. Agence France-Presse

ATHENS – A fire near Athens, fanned by high winds and high temperatures, has led to the evacuation of two villages, Greek authorities said Wednesday, pointing the finger at arsonists.

The fire prompted the deployment of 145 firefighters, 45 vehicles, six aircraft and 11 helicopters to the site, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) southeast of the capital.

Two villages and three private schools near the small town of Koropi were evacuated as a precaution, authorities said, while traffic in the area was closed.

READ: An ominous Greek summer warning sounds early – experts

“The fire spread rapidly in the area due to very strong winds with gusts reaching force eight on the Beaufort scale,” equivalent to storm speeds of 62 to 74 kilometers per hour, fire department spokesman Vassilis Vathrakogiannis told the press.

He said the service was seeing fires breaking out in the heat “almost every 10 minutes”, while adding that most had been quickly brought under control.

But Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said the fire near Athens had a criminal origin and was not caused “exclusively by weather conditions”.

READ: Greece offers payment to tourists evacuated due to forest fires

“The fire brigade and police investigating authorities have footage that clearly shows a man lighting a fire in dry grass,” he added at a press conference.

With temperatures rising to 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Attica region around the capital, Greece’s civil protection services warned on Wednesday and Thursday of a “very high” fire risk in several parts of the country.

According to authorities, firefighters are fighting the fires on five fronts on the Peloponnese peninsula, on the Aegean island of Lesbos, in Preveza, in Larissa and near Thessaloniki.

Greece has been regularly hit by scorching summer temperatures and last week experienced what meteorologists said was the first heat wave in history.

In 2023, the Mediterranean experienced an unprecedented two-week heat wave, followed by devastating forest fires.

According to the National Observatory of Athens, the flames have destroyed almost 175,000 hectares of forest and agricultural land.

Scientists warn that man-made fossil fuel emissions are worsening the length, frequency and intensity of heat waves around the world.

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, rising temperatures are leading to longer wildfire seasons and more area burning.

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