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BLAZING EUROPE

Wildfires move closer to Athens during high winds and temperatures

Firemen battle a wildfire in the settlement of Irini, near the resort town of Loutraki, about 80km east of Athens, Greece, on 17 July 2023. (Photo: Valerie Gache / AFP / Getty Images)

Strong winds are bringing a wildfire north of Athens closer to the Greek capital, while a separate blaze to the west flared up and spread near a refinery.

The second fire in Loutraki, a resort town 80km west of Athens popular with people who want a second home near the beach, flared up on Tuesday morning and is spreading. It remains uncontrolled, a fire department spokesperson said during an evening briefing.

Authorities are evacuating some areas and police have closed one of the country’s main highways connecting Athens with Loutraki to create a buffer zone around homes and the refinery. Police have asked those driving from western Greece to Athens to avoid the area.

The other blaze has spread to Mandra, about 27km northwest of Athens. “We are living a nightmare,” Mandra’s Mayor Christos Stathis said on Tuesday.

Greek authorities have asked people to evacuate a broader area around Mandra, while police have closed some exits on the Attica Motorway, one of the region’s main highways. The European Union is sending four firefighting planes from France and Italy to assist Greece, as blazes that destroyed houses outside the capital are still burning.

Fires are breaking out across Europe as another blast of heat from the Sahara envelops the Mediterranean. Temperatures in Greece are set to climb towards 44°C from Thursday.

Other fires in areas southeast of Athens, including Kouvaras, Saronida and Anavissos, have been quelled by firefighters using jets and helicopters. Residents and children from summer camps were evacuated to the nearest beaches on Monday, but only a few animals survived a blaze at a shelter in Kouvaras. The fire destroyed many homes used for short-term rentals in Panorama.

“I have many friends with Airbnb that saw their properties being burnt and their clients left,” said Xara Kovoussi, a resident of Anavissos who took refuge on a nearby beach. “We had headaches and our eyes were burning.”

The state will compensate everyone whose property was damaged or destroyed, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Monday evening from Brussels.

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