Brussels (Brussels Morning) Thousands of residents in around 60 villages and settlements across Greece were forced to abandon their homes as wildfires raged for a fourth consecutive day, fanned by winds and an unprecedented heat wave affecting most of the Mediterranean.
The wildfires reached the outskirts of the country’s capital, Athens, destroying homes in the city’s northern suburbs, as the raging inferno ripped through forested areas some 20 kilometres north of the city.
The island of Evia, northeast of Athens, had to be urgently evacuated, with the Greek coast guard organising a massive rescue operation, transporting the island’s residents by patrol vessels and private ships, moving hundreds of peoples off the island.
Exhausted firefighters managed to preserve some of the country’s threatened cultural heritage, as advancing flames were stopped before reaching the monuments at Olympia, birthplace of the ancient Olympic games. Emergency crews also succeeded in defending the former summer palace of the Greek royal family, just outside Athens.
According to Fire Service Brigadier General Aristotelis Papadoupoulos, the country was enduring the tenth day of the worst heat wave it has experienced in 30-plus years. More than 1,000 firefighters were fighting the remaining five uncontrolled fires in the country, aided by the army and volunteer teams, and supported by nearly 20 firefighting aircraft, including Canadair planes and helicopters.
Fire crews blocked all traffic on the main motorway that links Athens to the north of Greece, the aim being to use it as a firebreak in an effort to stop the spread of fire. The attempt ultimately proved unsuccessful, as sparks and smouldering pine cones were blown across the motorway to spread the conflagration.
On Friday, additional aid began to arrive from other European countries, with France, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland pledging to send firefighters, Canadair water-dumping planes, helicopters and firefighting trucks over the weekend. Crews and planes from Cyprus were already assisting the Greek firefighters in their efforts.