Greece: Wildfires near Athens, evacuation routes and road closures

Strong winds fanned wildfires several tens of kilometers east and west of Athens on Monday, prompting the evacuation of many seaside areas in the heatwave-stricken country.

Some 1,200 children have been evacuated from summer camps threatened by a fire near the seaside resort of Loutraki, near the Corinthian isthmus, some 80 km west of the Greek capital, Mayor Giorgos Gakionis announced.

Traffic on the highway linking Athens and Corinth was blocked for several hours in the afternoon as a precaution, according to the Greek news agency ANA.

At nightfall, the front of the fire, which appeared to be the most worrying, has now spread for more than 10 km, according to public television channel ERT.

“We must stop the fire from crossing the highway and spreading further,” insisted fire department spokesman Yanis Artopios.

Another fire had been raging since mid-day, in Kouvros, about 50 km east of Athens. Accompanied by strong winds, it spread as far as Anavisos, a densely populated area of ​​Attica, 40 km southeast of the Greek capital.

“It’s a tough fire, the winds are very strong up to 7 Beaufort (50 to 60 km/h)”, Yannis Artopios indicated, and added that “the fire spread 12 km in only two hours”.

He also announced that a man suspected of starting the fire had been arrested by police in the afternoon.

A wildfire erupted in the Lagonisi region, some 35 km from Athens, on July 17, 2023 (AFP – Spiros Bakalis)

But the 32-year-old suspect was eventually released following testimony from residents, according to the ANA, as there was no evidence against him.

According to Yannis Artopios, 210 firefighters including ten water bombers, six helicopters and 31 Romanians were deployed on both fronts of this fire.

The fire, which first destroyed brushwood, quickly spread near the seaside areas of Lagonisi, Anavisos and Saronida, where there are many secondary homes.

Thick smoke in Kalyavia blocked traffic on nearby roads in the afternoon and officials asked residents to leave the scene.

According to images broadcast by the public television channel ERT, several houses were burnt and an equestrian center was threatened by the flames, while a monastery was also evacuated.

The third front broke out on Monday afternoon in a forested area of ​​Boeotia, about fifty kilometers northeast of Athens. According to fire brigade personnel, 94 people and 30 vehicles are working at the spot.

Yannis Artopios warned that “tomorrow is also going to be a tough day”.

“The risk of fires is high with strong winds of up to 7 Beaufort forecast in the Aegean,” he added.

Greece, like much of Europe, was hit by its first heat wave of the year this weekend, with a maximum temperature of 44.2 degrees Celsius in the area of ​​Thebes (centre), according to the National Observatory of Athens.

At around 6:30 pm local (3:30 pm GMT) on Monday evening, thermometers in Athens showed between 35 and 36 degrees Celsius and a new heat wave is expected from Thursday.

“Today was the first really tough day of this summer. It is certain that others will follow. We have had, have and will have fires, it is one of the consequences of the climate crisis that we are living with such intensity is rising, Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said from Brussels.

A water bomber intercepts Kouvros near Lagonisi, about 35 kilometers from Athens, on July 17, 2023 (AFP - Spiros Bakalis)
A water bomber intercepts Kouvros near Lagonisi, about 35 kilometers from Athens, on July 17, 2023 (AFP – Spiros Bakalis)

“Our bet is how to limit them as quickly as possible, so that the damage done to us is as minimal as possible,” he said.

During the summer of 2021, massive fires ravaged several parts of the country, killing three people and destroying more than 100,000 hectares of forest.

In 2018, more than 100 people died in the country’s deadliest fire in Mati near Athens.

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