Athens, August 6 (Reuters) – Thousands of people fled their homes on the outskirts of Athens and hundreds were evacuated by boat from the nearby island of Euboea on Friday as Greece faced forest fires caused by high winds and fires on day four scorching temperatures were fueled.
Like elsewhere in Europe, Greece is facing extreme weather conditions this summer, and a sustained heat wave – the worst in 30 years – has sparked forest fires in several parts of the country simultaneously.
In neighboring Turkey, the authorities are fighting the country’s worst forest fires, which forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, including tourists, and briefly threatened a power plant. In Italy, hot winds kindled the flames on the island of Sicily this week.
On Friday, the skies over Athens were again clouded by thick smoke from forest fires on the northern outskirts, which came back to life on Thursday after dying away earlier in the week.
Temperatures were over 40 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit) all week and no easing was expected on Friday as stormy winds were expected to spread the flames further. There were power outages in at least two suburbs and on the island of Evia, where the wind was getting stronger.
Coast guard ships with the support of tourist boats have picked up 631 people from three beaches on the island since the end of Thursday, where the flames have burned through a huge pine forest and reached the sea since Tuesday.
The sea patrols will continue in an emergency.
“We are trying to deal with the biggest disaster in Evia in 50 years with the means at our disposal,” said the island’s deputy governor, George Kelaiditis.
“We are talking about hundreds of damaged homes, hundreds of thousands of acres of burned woodland and crops that will affect the livelihoods of many.”
Along with firefighters from several countries including France, Cyprus and Sweden, Israel said it was sending a team of 15 firefighters to Greece.
A number of Athenian suburbs were evacuated when the fire burned around the main road connecting the capital with northern Greece and hundreds of firefighters with depth charge planes tried to prevent the flames from reaching the nearby town of Marathon.
At least nine people have been hospitalized so far with various injuries, including two volunteer firefighters being treated for burns in intensive care units in Athens, health officials said.
Additional reporting from Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv Letter from Karolina Tagaris Editing from Giles Elgood
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