Greek fires break out near Athens; Homes, hospitals have been evacuated

Greek fires break out near Athens;  Homes, hospitals have been evacuated
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ATHENS, July 19 (Reuters) – Greek wildfires raged in the mountainous region of Pentelli near Athens on Tuesday, prompting authorities to evacuate at least four areas and a hospital.

Heavy clouds of smoke were billowing over Mount Pentelli where the fire broke out at 1430 GMT, about 27 km (16 miles) north of central Athens.

The picture shows the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis hill covered in red light due to the fire in the background. By nightfall, flames were visible from the island of Evia, about 50 kilometers away, according to eyewitnesses.

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Local media reported that at least one house was gutted in the fire but the fire brigade could not confirm the information. No casualty was reported, the fire brigade said.

About 420 firefighters with 85 engines were trying to control the fire, which was burning on different fronts till late afternoon. Earlier, more than 24 helicopters and planes dropped water on the fire but operations had to be stopped at night due to safety concerns.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of four areas, Drafi, Anthosa, Dioni and Dasamari. They also advised residents in the area to prepare to evacuate.

A hospital and the National Observatory in Athens were evacuated as a precaution. Roads leading to Pentelli were closed to traffic and police were helping residents evacuate fire-affected areas.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chaired a teleconference with civil protection authorities on the fire.

“Today is a difficult day. We are at the peak of fire season and the current conditions make it easier for fires to spread,” Fire Department spokesman Yanis Artopios said in a statement.

Artopios earlier told TV ERT that the fire was a “difficult” case and that 28 firefighters from Romania were assisting local firefighters.

“We’re fighting it, we’re trying to contain the fire,” Artopios said.

Winds were forecast to continue through Wednesday afternoon.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby in Greece during the hottest months of July and August.

Last year, wildfires destroyed nearly 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in parts of Greece as the country faced its worst heat wave in 30 years.

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Additional reporting by Angeliki Coutantou, Carolina Tagaris and Alkis Constantinidis; Written by Renee Maltezou; Edited by Sandra Maller and Richard Pullin

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