KOUVARAS, Greece (AP) — Two wildfires, fanned by strong winds, raged out of control on coastal towns near Athens on Monday, forcing residents to flee their homes and prompting the evacuation of hundreds of children from a camp summer.
The fire that broke out in the town of Kouvaras, about 27 kilometers (17 miles) southeast of the Greek capital, spread rapidly amid erratic winds, a Greek fire service official said.
A Reuters witness said at least five houses were severely damaged by the fire that also ripped through the coastal residential area of Lagonisi, a popular summer resort.
Police helped evacuate more than 100 citizens in the wider area. Dozens of horses were evacuated by trucks when the flames reached stables in the nearby areas of Kalyvia and Anavyssos.
“Due to strong winds, the fire spread over 12 kilometers in two hours,” Greek Fire Service spokesman Ioannis Artopoios told a televised briefing, adding that police had detained a person suspected of causing arson.
More than 200 firefighters assisted by 20 soldiers, 68 fire trucks, 10 planes and six helicopters were fighting the flames.
Coast guard ships patrolled along the coast to help evacuate citizens if necessary, and more ships were on standby in case they needed to intervene.
About 1,200 children at a summer camp and residents of a rehabilitation center have been evacuated due to another bushfire near the seaside resort of Loutraki, some 50 miles west of Athens, a local mayor told Greek television.
Some 135 firefighters with 50 fire trucks, 40 soldiers and 13 planes were deployed to contain the blaze that forced police to close part of a highway and disrupted train service.
A third fire broke out in the afternoon and was burning a forest about 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of Athens, in the Dervenochoria area.
Authorities said they were fighting 81 fires in total across the country on Monday, with the biggest fronts near Athens, and bracing for more fires on Tuesday due to high temperatures and strong winds.
“Tuesday will also be a very difficult day. There is a very high risk of fires,” Artopoios said, adding that strong winds will persist.
Forest fires are common in Greece in summer, but a dry winter has created powder keg conditions.
Recently re-elected Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on a trip to attend a leaders’ summit in Brussels, said he was constantly being briefed on the fires, which he also blamed on climate change. He urged citizens to follow civil protection regulations.
“Today was the first really hard day of this summer. It is certain that more will come. We have had, have and will have fires, which is also one of the results of the climate crisis that we are experiencing with greater intensity, ”she said.
The Greek weather service has warned of a high risk of fire this week, just as the country recovers from the first major heat wave of the summer.
A second heat wave is forecast to hit the Mediterranean nation later this week.
Greece still has memories of a wildfire disaster in 2018, when a fire killed 101 people in the coastal town of Mati, east of Athens.
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