Wed, 22 Sep 2021

ATHENS, Aug. 4 (Xinhua) -- The fire in Varybobi in the north of Athens has burnt approximately 1,250 hectares of forest and other land, while almost 100 houses, dozens of cars and 27 businesses have been damaged so far, Greek Deputy Minister for Civil Protection and Crisis Management Nikos Hardalias told a press briefing here on Wednesday.

He also said that the major fire fronts seemed to be in recession. The Fire Service managed to contain the four major fire fronts to one, but there are still many scattered outbreaks.

The fire, which broke out on Tuesday in a dense pine forest area in the northern suburbs of Athens, continued to rage on Wednesday, as thousands of people were evacuated from residential zones.

A total of 442 people were taken to safety by firefighters or police during the evacuation after running into difficulties, Hardalias added.

A large part of the Attica region, including the Athens center, was covered by clouds of thick black smoke, as blazes had swept through the settlements of Adames, Varybobi, Thrakomakedones and were reaching Kryoneri and Tatoi on Wednesday morning.

"We were up against an extremely difficult fire in conditions of extreme hot weather. I hold on to the fact that we have not until now any losses of human life as positive and that the evacuation system operated in an exemplary way," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said as he joined a meeting in the mobile coordination center near the site of the fire earlier Wednesday.

"There are still difficult times ahead. We have some days yet of the heatwave and then the winds will begin, in which case I ask everyone to remain on absolute alert," he added.

Seventy-seven people were hospitalized with breathing problems due to the heavy smoke in the burning area, Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said while visiting one of the hospitals treating people who suffered from the fire.

Public Power Corporation units were working to restore power supply in the region after power lines were damaged.

Faced with the biggest challenge among hundreds of wildfires this summer, Greece has requested assistance from European partners.

The European Union has activated its emergency mechanism for disasters. Cyprus and Sweden are sending groups of firefighters and firefighting planes which are expected to start operating on Wednesday, Hardalias noted.

Euthymios Lekkas, professor of environmental disaster management at the University of Athens, told the Greek national broadcaster ERT that the morphology of the area itself, the combination of the high temperatures, and the low humidity levels along with the mix of residential and forest zones, led in a condition of self-ignition and spread the fire so quickly.

"In the near future, phenomena like extreme heat waves, wildfires, floods, will be a normality. Climate crisis is here. We must start planning under new procedures. We have to change our way of thinking", he said.

Greece is experiencing its worst heatwave in decades, with temperatures in some places reaching up to 45 degrees Celsiu. The heatwave is expected to continue until the end of the week.

Greek authorities have warned that emergency measures remain in place throughout the week, while alert messages are sent to residents in areas where there is a high risk of fire, including the islands of Rhodes and Crete.

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