Greek firefighters battle major blazes on multiple fronts

AFP , Wednesday 23 Aug 2023

Greek firefighters on Wednesday struggled to contain uncontrolled fires throughout the country for a fifth day, several of them bordering an acrid, smoke-filled Athens.

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Firefighters and volunteers flee during a wildfire in Chasia in the outskirts of Athens on August 22, 2023. AFP

 

A fire ripped through the foothills of Mount Parnitha, the largest forest adjoining the capital, and was threatening to spread to its national park.

Evacuations were ordered on Wednesday morning for three more settlements in the suburb Menidi, including three nursing homes.

The blaze has reached the first houses in Menidi, which is also close to a military camp.

Fires have already destroyed homes and properties in the nearby suburbs of Hasia and Fyli.

A migrants detention centre in Amygdaleza, north of Athens, was also evacuated.

The Greek capital woke up Wednesday to the smell of scorched earth and thick black smoke covering the sky.

"Unfortunately, the wind does not help at all," Stathis Topalidis, deputy mayor of Menidi told state TV ERT.

On Tuesday, authorities ordered the evacuation of Ano Liosia in northwest Athens -- a district of over 25,000 people -- even though several stayed at their houses to try and protect their properties.

"Conditions remain difficult and in many cases extreme," fire department spokesman Yiannis Artopios said in a televised address.

Another big blaze was still raging at a landfill in the industrial zone of Aspropyrgos, west of Athens.

One neighbourhood was evacuated Wednesday morning.

Flames continued to spread unchecked for a fifth day in the northeastern region of Evros, close to the Turkish border in Alexandroupolis and the Dadia forest, and home to rare birds of prey.

More evacuations were ordered in the region overnight.

Online rumours 

Unfounded rumours and allegations have also been spreading rapidly on social media that blame migrants for responsibility for the outbreak of the fires.

Greece's Supreme Court Prosecutor on Wednesday ordered the local prosecutor to investigate both the causes of the catastrophic fire and alleged claims of racism towards migrants.

Greek authorities on Tuesday arrested three individuals in northern Greece who had forced undocumented migrants into a cargo trailer, blaming them for being responsible for the fires.

The individuals posted a video on social media urging more people to do the same.

Also on Tuesday, 18 people were found dead in a forest fire near the Turkish border, north of Alexandroupolis.

The dead included two children, a police official said.

As no local residents had been reported missing "the possibility that they are people who entered our country illegally is under investigation," fire department spokesman Yiannis Artopios said in a televised address.

Fires were also raging on the islands of Evia and Kythnos, the region of Boeotia, north of Athens and in western Greece.

Another fire that broke out on Tuesday on the island of Samothraki was contained overnight, but the island remains without electricity.

Over 40,000 hectares (nearly 99,000 acres) were destroyed in wildfires in just three days from August 19 to 21, according to a report by the National Observatory of Athens.

The very hot and dry conditions which increase the fire risk will persist until Friday, according to meteorologists.

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