Greek forest fire rages near Athens;  home, hospital evacuated

Greek forest fire rages near Athens; home, hospital evacuated

ATHENS, July 19 (Reuters) – A Greek forest fire driven by storm winds erupted in the Penteli mountain region near Athens on Tuesday, prompting authorities to order the evacuation of at least four areas and a hospital.

Heavy clouds of smoke rose into the sky and waved over Mount Penteli where the fire broke out at. 1430 GMT, about 27 km north of Athens city center.

The photos showed the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis hill covered in red light due to the fire burning in the background. In the evening, the flames were visible from the island of Evia, about 50 km away, according to witnesses.

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Local media reported that the fire had burned at least one house, but the fire department would not confirm the information. No injuries have been reported, the fire service states.

Around 420 firefighters assisted by 85 engines tried to tame the fire, which burned on several fronts late in the afternoon. More than 24 helicopters and planes have previously dumped water on the flames, but had to stop operations at night for safety reasons.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of four areas, Drafi, Anthousa, Dioni and Dasamari. They also advised residents in several areas to prepare to evacuate.

One hospital and the National Observatory in Athens were evacuated as a precaution. Traffic was stopped on the roads leading to Penteli, and police helped residents find their way out of the fire-affected areas.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chaired a teleconference with the civil protection authorities about the fire.

“Today is a difficult day. We are at the peak of the fire season and the current conditions make it easier for fires to break out and spread,” Fire Department spokesman Yiannis Artopios said in a statement.

Artopios previously told state TV ERT that the fire was a “difficult” case and that 28 firefighters from Romania helped local firefighters.

“We are fighting it, we are trying to circle the fire,” Artopios said.

The wind was forecast to persist until Wednesday afternoon.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece.

Last year, forest fires ravaged around 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and shrub in different parts of Greece when the country experienced its worst heat wave in 30 years.

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Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Karolina Tagaris and Alkis Konstantinidis; Author by Renee Maltezou; Edited by Sandra Maler and Richard Pullin

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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