Hundreds evacuated as blaze engulfs Athens suburbs

Hundreds of people were evacuated early Wednesday as firefighters deployed planes and helicopters to fight a surging wildfire in mountainside suburbs north of Athens for a second day.

Nearly 500 firefighters, 120 vehicles, three planes and four helicopters swung into action from dawn to battle the flames from spreading to the suburbs of Penteli, Anthousa and Gerakas, which is home to some 29 000 people.

No injuries were immediately reported but at least 10 homes are believed to have sustained varying degrees of damage, state TV ERT said.

Greek media reported that an 80-year-old man in Anthousa had fatally shot himself in despair over the fire, which broke out on Tuesday afternoon.

Greece has so far been spared the scorching temperatures that have contributed to deadly wildfires in France, Portugal and Spain, destroying vast tracts of land, but has faced gale-force winds this week.

The wildfires on the foot of Mount Penteli north of Athens were fanned overnight by strong winds that constantly changed direction, a spokesman for the firefighters said Wednesday.

“This makes our task of dousing the flames difficult,” he said.

Residents in several areas, a paediatric hospital and the national observatory at Athens were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

“It was insane, we did not know where to flee,” an elderly resident of Anthousa told ERT.

“Embers were falling from the sky, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

Traffic was suspended on parts of a ring road around Athens, the company that manages it said on Twitter.

Greece has set up a crisis cell and firefighters battled 117 wildfires in the country in the last 24 hours.

It has asked European countries to send firefighters. A heatwave and wildfires last year destroyed 103 000 hectares (255 000 acres) and claimed three lives.

© Agence France-Presse

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