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Greek wildfires are raging near Athens; Homes, hospital evacuation

Greek wildfires are raging near Athens;  Homes, hospital evacuation

ATHENS (Reuters) – A Greek wildfire fanned by strong winds erupted in the mountainous region of Benteli near Athens on Tuesday, prompting authorities to order the evacuation of at least four areas and a hospital.

Thick clouds of smoke rose into the sky over Mount Penteli, where the fire broke out at 1430 GMT, about 27 km north of central Athens.

The photos showed the Parthenon on the Acropolis hill covered in red light due to a fire burning in the background. By nightfall, flames could be seen from the island of Evia, about 50 km away, according to witnesses.

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Local media reported that the fire burned down at least one house, but firefighters could not confirm this information. The fire brigade said there were no reports of injuries.

About 420 firefighters with the help of 85 engines are trying to put out the flames that were burning on several fronts in the late afternoon. More than two dozen helicopters and planes earlier threw water on the flames but had to halt operations at night for safety reasons.

The authorities ordered the evacuation of four districts: Dravi, Anthusa, Dioni and Dasmari. They also advised residents in more areas to prepare for evacuation.

The Athens National Hospital and Observatory was evacuated as a precaution. Traffic was halted on the roads to Bentili and police helped residents find their way out of the fire-stricken areas.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chaired a conference call with civil protection authorities on the fire.

“Today is a difficult day. We are at the height of fire season and current conditions make it easy for fires to break out and spread,” fire department spokesman Yiannis Artubius said in a statement.

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

“We fight it,” said Artubius, “try to encircle the fire.”

Winds were expected to continue into 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, wildfires destroyed about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in various parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heat wave in 30 years.

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Additional reporting by Angelique Kotanto, Carolina Tajares and Alex Konstantinidis; Written by Rene Maltezzo. Editing by Sandra Mahler and Richard Boleyn

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.