Firefighting planes resumed operation at first light in Greece on Wednesday to tackle a major forest fire on the northern outskirts of Athens that forced thousands to flee their homes the previous day amid the country's worst heat wave in decades.
The fire in the Varibobi and Tatoi suburbs of the Greek capital was the worst of 81 wildfires that broke out around the country in 24 hours from late Monday to late Tuesday.
Five water-dropping planes and nine helicopters were helping more than 500 firefighters, soldiers and numerous volunteer groups on the ground, the fire department said.
``It was another exceptionally difficult night,'' Civil Protection chief Nikos Hardalias said while visiting a fire department mobile coordination center in the area on Wednesday morning. He said fire fighters had succeeded in reducing four active fire fronts to one overnight.
``There is still a lot of work to be done,'' he said.
The fire was fueled by tinder-dry conditions caused by a protracted heat wave that began last week and sent temperatures soaring to 45 degrees Celsius (113 F).
There were no reports of deaths or serious injuries. The fire burned homes, businesses and vehicles, and sent a large cloud of smoke over Athens on Tuesday night. The government announced it would provide hotel rooms for local residents for as long as they are unable to return to their homes.
On Tuesday, residents evacuated in cars and on foot, while riding schools in the area raced to evacuate horses from the path of the flames. Some horses, released from their stables, wandered down the streets.
The leafy suburbs of Varibobi and Tatoi lie at the foot of Mount Parnitha, next to large forests of mainly pine trees. The fire, which began on Tuesday afternoon inside the forest, quickly raced through the flammable pine and reached the main square of Varibobi.
Some nearby residents took to social media to offer shelter for animals affected by the fire.
Apart from the fire north of Athens, two more major forest fires were still burning Wednesday morning, one on the island of Evia and one in the southwestern Peloponnese.
The fire department said 95 firefighters, two aircraft, four ground teams and 35 vehicles were battling the flames in Evia, while 74 firefighters, three ground teams, 22 vehicles and one helicopter were tackling the fire in the Messinia area of the Peloponnese.
As the heat wave scorching the eastern Mediterranean intensified, temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 F) in parts of the Greek capital. The extreme weather has fueled deadly wildfires in Turkey and blazes in Italy, Greece, Albania and across the region.
The heatwave is forecast to continue in Greece until the end of the week.